Cock (play)

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Cock (play).jpg
Poster for play
Written byMike Bartlett
Date premiered13 November 2009 (2009-11-13)[1]
Place premieredRoyal Court Theatre
SettingLondon, United Kingdom

Cock is a 2009 play by Mike Bartlett. It premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in November 2009 and centres around John, a gay man who feels torn after meeting and falling in love with a woman.


John has identified as "gay" his entire life and has been in a relationship with his boyfriend "M" for the last 7 years, with whom he shares an apartment and a family life. After the couple decide to take a break, John meets a woman named "W" on his daily commute. He is surprised to find himself developing a physical attraction to her and decides to lose his heterosexual virginity and have sex with a woman for the first time. After identifying as a gay man for many years, John discovers that he enjoys sex with women. He now feels torn between his longtime boyfriend and his new female lover, as the newly discovered joys of vaginal sex cause his sexual identity as a gay man to be thrown into confusion. As "W" teaches John the ins-and-outs of heterosexual intercourse, the relationship becomes more serious and they began to consider getting married and having children together. Eventually, he confesses that he has slept with a woman, causing his boyfriend to be offended by the infidelity and disgusted that John has been cheating with a woman. John tells M that he loves him, but that sex is better with W ("her vagina is amazing") and that she's a more fitting partner for him ("She's better than you"). The play's final scene, which is meant to be reminiscent of a cock fight, features John's boyfriend and John's girlfriend fighting over who will have him.[2][3][4][5]

Production history[edit]

The play premiered at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, in November 2009, with Ben Whishaw as John, Andrew Scott as M, Katherine Parkinson as W and Paul Jesson as F; the original cast were recorded for a radio production broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in November 2011.[6]

A production of the play was also put on at the Duke On 42nd Street, in New York City, in 2012.

The first major revival in the UK was commissioned by Chichester Festival Theatre in 2018 and played in the Minerva Theatre, directed by Kate Hewitt.


Michael Billington of The Guardian gave the play 3 stars out of 5, praising the play as a "sharp, witty study" that was less about "tortured bisexuality" and more about the "paralysing indecision that stems from not knowing who one really is." However, he notes that the play lacks social detail and character depth.[7]

Alison Croggon, writing in The Guardian, gave the play 2 stars out of 5, described Cock as a story of a gay man's discovery of "the unexpected pleasures of Cunt." She criticizes the play's "uncomfortable subtext of misogyny" and describes the plot as "farcical".[8]

In The Village Voice, Alexis Solokis describes the play as a "visceral, funny, anguished" production that "pits boy against girl, cock against cunt." She likens the final dinner scene to a gladiator's ring or a boxing round that ends up being "less a battle of the sexes than a battle of sexual orientation."[9]

Writing for the Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter described the play as a "robust, ribald and bollocking production" about a gay man who becomes "cock shocked and cunt struck" due to a "newfound fondness for vaginal sex and a future view of breeding fecundity". He praised Bartlett's "crisp script" which he felt perfectly describes the sexual confusion of a "man child who has his cock and wants to eat it too." Cotter notes the sizzling tension between the female lover and the cuckolded boyfriend, which leads to the play's "shattering climax".[10]

Gay City News credited the play for "tackling thorny issues rarely seen on stage". Instead of the standard coming out narrative of the supposedly straight man "succumbing to the power of cock, there's a supposedly gay guy with a boyfriend falling for pussy", a theme that is handled by Bartlett's script with "sensitivity and acerbic wit." The play is critiqued as "gimmicky", but the "surprisingly steamy" and "brilliantly staged" sex scene is praised for eliciting nervous laughter and shocked reactions in the audience.[11]

The Lifestyle Hub described the play as "a gay man's hilarious journey to heterosexual orgasm" that explores the "complexities of homosexuality." The play's "honest" and "straightforward" exploration of bisexuality shows that "Gay or not, people fall in love to those who can give us happiness." By presenting the story of a "bisexual gay" man who develops an attraction to the opposite sex, the play demonstrates the truth that "for some gays, they yearn for that happiness with other people regardless if they have vagina or... cock."[12]

Mark Robins of Vancouver Presents has described the play as an exploration of identity and sexual fluidity that might appeal to a younger demographic, calling the play an "intellectual exercise on modern-day sexuality."[13]

The play won an Olivier award in 2010 for an Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre.[14]


The play was banned in the local authority of Sotira, Cyprus, for its gay content.[15]


  1. ^ "Cock by Mike Bartlett" (PDF). Dramatists Play Service. 2013. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  2. ^ "NY Review: 'Cock'". Backstage. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  3. ^ "Theater review: Cock". My City Paper. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  4. ^ "A silent gesture means a thousand words on stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  5. ^ "Cock Takes Hard Look At Nature of Love; GableStage Production Rises to the Occasion". Florida Theater on Stage. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  6. ^ Drama On 3 - Cock, BBC web page accessed 27 June 2020.
  7. ^ "Cock". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  8. ^ "Cock, Melbourne Theatre Company – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  9. ^ "Cock: Fight Club". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  10. ^ "COCK @ THE OLD FITZ". Sydney Arts Guide. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  11. ^ "Cock Sure". Gay City News. Retrieved 2018-01-21.
  13. ^ "Cock explores identity and the fluidity of sexuality". Vancouver Presents. Retrieved 2010-01-12.
  14. ^ Olivier Winners 2010, Official London Theatre site, accessed 27 June 2020.
  15. ^ "Outburst after town bans performance of 'gay' play". Cyprus Mail. Retrieved 2018-01-21.