Cock – Mike Bartlett


First performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London, on November 13, 2009.

Original Cast:

John                      Ben Whishaw
M                            Andrew Scott
W                            Katherine Parkinson
F                             Paul Jesson

Director:  James Macdonald
Designer:  Miriam Buether
Lighting:  Peter mumford
Sound:  David McSeveney

Publication:  Bartlett, Mike. Cock. Methuen Drama, 2009. Drama Library PR6102.A7838 C63 2009b

Setting:  The present.

Language:  Contemporary; lots of run-on thoughts, long pauses, breaks in character’s lines, and moments when they say nothing


What are you? Most people seem to come together pretty well, their atoms hold, and you can look at them and go oh, that’s my mate Steve, that’s the queen, but you, you don’t seem to have grown coherently

You’re a collection of things that don’t amount

You’re a sprawl

A mob.

You don’t add up.

Genre/Style:  Serio-Comedic

Plot:   John, who has been in a long-term gay relationship with M, meets and falls in love with a woman, W, and has to decide who he is and who he wants to be with.  The play is staged without furniture or props so that all of the audience’s focus is on the action of the drama unfolding in front of them.  Most of the scenes in the play are short and sparse, leaving a lot of room for an actor’s interpretation.  The only scene that feels a little unreal in the play is the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfish dinner party attended by John, M, W, and F, M’s father.  It seems highly unlikely that John would agree to have his two lovers meet face-to-face to hear his decision over dinner.  Add to that M’s father, and the scene threatens to tip the play from realism to near farce.  Also, even though the other characters allude to their befuddlement as to why they want him so much, I’m not quite convinced that John is worth all of the soul-searching, heartache, and turmoil that he causes his two lovers.  In a play where characters fight not to be defined by their sexuality, but their identity, there is very little on view in John’s case.  We never even find out what he does.  A lot of his charm would have to depend on the actor portraying him because, as written, he appears childish, indecisive, completely self-absorbed, and a bit of a cipher. Of course, both M and W have some unpleasant character traits as well.  W comes across as combative, defensive, and overly solicitous of John, who doesn’t seem worthy of her fierce loyalty; M is controlling, belittling of John, and fights dirty by inviting his dad to dinner, but he’s also genuinely hurt by John’s betrayal and seems to honestly love him.




Representative Monologues:  Mono­logues con­tain the first few lines and the last few lines; please con­sult the pub­lished text for the mono­logue in its entirety.

p.33-34:  W explains why she hates weekends. John’s line can be cut.


It’s weekends that are the problem. Weeks are fine, they’re great. Friday-night parties, after-work drinks this is when you’re in your element, you can do what you want, but it gets to Saturday afternoon…. [Lines cut] What would it be like, could we spend our whole lives togtehr , and looking I’m going to be honest shit—Jesus I’m really talking here.


It’s fine.]


I mean I’m so jealous of the ones that I think are really in love. [Lines cut] …I’ll never do it again I would rather be on my own that do that however fucking lonely I get. Ha!

p.87-88:  John talks about coming out and being defined by words and how it’s not about the sex of the person you love but who they are.  M’s lines can be cut.


You want to know what I am okay okay I don’t know okay.

When I was at uni and I finally decided I’d do it and come out, all these people hugged me and were proud of me and said how brave I was and suddenly people were touching me… [Lines cut] Gay straight, words from the sixties made by our parents, sound so old, only invented to get rights, and we’ve got rights now so


Some rights, not enough and…how did we get on to this?]


They’re horrible horrible words what they do how they stop you


 / ‘horrible words’]


and I can see now I can see tht it’s about who the person is. Not man or woman but What they’re like. What they do. [Lines cut] So why are you telling me that what I sleep with is more important tha[n] who I sleep with?

p.90-91:  M tries one last time to keep John.


So the dessert was cheesecake here it is:  cheesecake. I made your favourite John your favourite in all the world, a nice cheesecake I think it was going to be a tactic a final gesture in case things   hadn’t gone well…[Lines cut] There’s your cheesecake, if you feel like staying with me for a bit you could have some we culd share a piece if you like but you’re going with her aren’t you so you should probably fuck off now, and me and Dad’ll eat it instead. Bye.

p.93-94:  W tries one last time to convince John to leave with her.  John’s line can be cut.


So I’ll go for ever, and me wearing your shirt, in a hotel in Paris, walking around glimpses of what’s between my legs,


/ Fuck]


all of that and everything else in the future, all leaving, all going, me pregnant eating biscuits and then the hospital bed, everything you described to me, everything we imagined, you holding my hand, and Jack’s born and grows up there he is…[Lines cut] …and you’ll be left with him. Just him.

[Lines cut]




Representative Scenes:  All of the scenes in the play before the dinner party at the end are two-person scenes, either M-M or M-F, so there are a lot to choose from.

p. 14-17:  John has returned home with a gift of teddy bears after having left M.   M is suspicious and John finally confesses that he’s slept with someone else, a woman.  Starts with


So what have you done?

and ends with


I am.

It was a week ago.

p.43-47:  John meets W to tell her they can’t see each other anymore because M knows.  Starts with


I don’t know how to explain this but the thing is you have to stop following me.

and ends with




What are you going to do?




Select Bibliography of Reviews and Criticism:  (Note:  arti­cle title links are to the online ver­sions, mostly UW-only restricted unless des­ig­nated as open access.)

Benedict, D. (2009). COCK. Variety, 417(3), 40.

Billington, M. (2009, Nov 19). Reviews: Theatre: Cock: Royal court, london 3/5. The Guardian, pp. 38.

Hemming, S. (2009, Nov 21). Cock. Financial Times, pp. 14.

Letts, Q. (2009, Nov 19). Quentin letts first night review [edition 2]. Daily Mail, pp. 30.

Sierz, A. (2009). A compelling combination of sharp writing and acting talent. Stage, (6709), 19.

Soloski, A. (2012, May 23). Cock: Fight club. [open access] The Village Voice, pp. 1.

Spencer, C. (2009, Nov 19). First night cock royal court tame tale whimpers to the end. The Daily Telegraph, pp. 35.

Taylor, P. (2009, Nov 23). A brilliant study in bisexuality. The Independent, pp. 16.