Reviews Edinburgh Fringe 2018 Published 7 August 2018

Edinburgh Review: Cock, Cock… Who’s There? at Summerhall

Until 26 August 2018

Claim, revel, destroy, subvert, love: Rosemary Waugh reviews Samira Elagoz’s verbatim show about rape and men’s reactions to her.

Rosemary Waugh
Cock, Cock… Who’s There? at Summerhall

Cock, Cock… Who’s There? at Summerhall

This is Sam looking like she could take it hard, since 2005.

Cock, Cock… Who’s There? by Samira Elagoz is not your average show about rape, female bodies, online dating, feminism, the male gaze or whatever other ‘issue’ stickers are freely available to be pasted onto it. In Edinburgh as part of the Start to Finnish showcase at Summerhall, this autobiographical, mainly filmed show is quite possibly the best thing on at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. And you might well hate it.

Early this year, Elagoz’s other work, a film project called Craigslist Allstars, won the Spirit of the Chicago Underground Film Festival award. The jurors comments on her website explain how the film ‘constantly delighted, infuriated, and surprised us.’ The exact same could be said of my own watching of Cock, Cock… Who’s There? which involved just about every emotion going, including rage, annoyance, frustration and boredom. All of which combined with a growing sense that what I was watching was absolutely brilliant – a feeling that overnight grew into a certainty.

At the very end of the show, Elagoz – who intermittently narrates onstage the filmed footage – notes that both her story and this piece of art do not have a neat conclusion. It’s an accurate observation, both in terms of this specific situation and perhaps as a wider comment on anyone’s relationship with sex and sexual abuse. These stories never really reach their conclusions until we die.

But when Elagoz says it, the comment gets at another truth. Cock, Cock… Who’s There? is a messy, fragmented work littered with ‘flaws’ in terms of its research methods and even the editing of the videos themselves (too repetitive in some parts, too brief in others). But like a smashed mirror lying in shards on the floor, the moment you stop trying to piece it together and step back to look, what you witness is a perfect reflection of the surrounding world. Instinctively, it makes sense. Or at least, it did to me.

Let’s take a prosaic step back as well and fill in some of the basic details. Cock, Cock… Who’s There? is based on Elagoz’s personal experience of rape and the project she devised after this to explore – among other things – men’s reactions to her via meetings with strangers organised using Craigslist adverts and other online dating sites. Perhaps the most interesting thing of all is how integrated Elagoz (and her body and appearance) are with the project. She places herself in these situations – including ones that feel dangerous – to discover first hand the reaction of men to her. Not an academic, non-specific ‘female’ placed in a theoretical ‘male gaze’, but her own self interacting with a real life individual male.

In this way, Elagoz’s creations are similar to that of Molly Soda, an artist whose work centres on creating an online presence, including Youtube videos, selfies and web-cam tutorials, and monitoring the responses of people who see and comment on her uploaded content. With both artists, the line between artist and work is basically non-existent: they are their own project. And in choosing to explore the reaction of others to a sexualised, highly feminine persona they expose themselves to hatred, confusion, adoration and more.

It’s the confusion bit that makes it so worthwhile. Elagoz doesn’t give the audience the accepted portrait of a ‘rape victim’, neither does she at any point (and this is crucial) justify being sexual, seeking sex, enjoying sex or presenting herself in a manner other women, as much as men, might find uncomfortable. More than that, it goes places most people are afraid to go, notably into looking at the idea of ‘dominant’ men and the women who enjoy that sexual dynamic, without superficially conflating this with abuse and abusers.

The result is piece of art that’s far more nuanced, intelligent and adult in its consideration of sexuality and femininity than the vast majority made on the subject. Equally, it’s never boringly ‘provocative’ for the sake of being so – everything here is meticulously considered – more so than can be appreciated on a first encounter with it. And it does it all by seemingly hiding behind a scraggly, bedraggled, pop-culture exterior, placing it firmly in the tradition of feminist artworks and literature that claim, revel in, destroy, subvert, love and enjoy archly feminine imagery all at the same time. You might not agree with Elagoz, but frankly you shouldn’t need to – theatre is at its least interesting when functioning as a backslapping echo chamber. Love it or hate it, you should definitely go see it.

Cock, Cock… Who’s There? is on until 26 August 2018 at Summerhall. Click here for more details. 

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Rosemary Waugh

Rosemary is the Reviews Editor for Exeunt. She is a freelance arts and theatre journalist, who writes for Time Out and The Stage.

Edinburgh Review: Cock, Cock… Who’s There? at Summerhall Show Info


Written by Samira Elagoz

Cast includes Samira Elagoz

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