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Cock

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Highly talented Mike Bartlett’s last play at the Royal Court, My Child, was designed with lavish indulgence in a tube train compartment-cum-coffee-house in a segment of the downstairs area.

The same designer, Miriam Buether, has now turned the Upstairs studio into a mini wooden cockpit, seating just ninety customers, to watch Bartlett’s cunning, intense contest – yes, it’s another tug-of-love – for the affection of whippety, sexually conflicted John.

The play’s sold out because John is played by Ben Whishaw who, apart from starring as John Keats in the new Jane Campion movie, has rapidly compiled a portfolio of daring theatre work as an Old Vic Hamlet and in notable plays by Philip Ridley and collaborations with Katie Mitchell.

And maybe the title, too, is a draw in some (hind) quarters. But this show is not what it says on the tin, and certainly not a load of old whatsit, either.

Director James Macdonald is very good at making transparent surfaces of dialogue ripple and glint with danger, and Wishaw and his dominant lover, labelled just M, but no Bond man, is played with matching brilliance by quick-as-a-flash Andrew Scott. Their opening joust is a joy to behold.

John meets a girl, W, an attractive singleton who says he looks like a pencil drawing and needs colouring in. Katherine Parkinson makes this sound funny and touching, not daft, and totally belies John’s description of her to the seething M as a hirsute manly creature from the black lagoon.

Women are like water when a man wants beer, says John, struggling to understand his own sexuality but relieved to find someone who doesn’t needle or belittle him. His naked dance of coition with W is genuinely sexy without a finger lifted or a garment removed.

It’s all a tough fought battle, especially when M makes it a foursome by asking round his Dad (the totally filled-in Paul Jesson - no line-drawing, he - who makes stodginess a virtue) for dinner.

Performed without furniture or props on small green disc in this Ikea-like wooden O, the play’s a small diamond, and Whishaw wrings more angst and confusion out of the role than he did from his own too pubescent Dane.

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