DON17_Q2_141_knives_in_hen_728x90
Reviews Manchester Published 18 March 2017

Review: Cock and Bull at the Royal Exchange, Manchester

Royal Exchange Studio ⋄ 16th-18th March 2017

A thing of then and now and whatever the hell might be next: Catherine Love reviews Cock and Bull, two years on from when it was made.

Catherine Love
Cock and Bull at the Manchester Royal Exchange.

Cock and Bull at the Manchester Royal Exchange.

Some pieces of art get overtaken by events. Some events get overtaken by pieces of art. Cock and Bull is that odd, rare thing: a show that feels at once current and prescient. It’s a thing of then and now and whatever the hell might be next.

Cock and Bull was made almost two years ago, on the eve of the General Election. It’s been performed in anticipation of that vote, in its aftermath, and in the wake of a series of subsequent political shocks. As Rosana Cade notes at the opening of the show, tones already as politician-slick as her suit, this is a piece of performance that seems to resonate beyond its immediate context.

That’s an understatement.

Cade is soon joined on stage by fellow performers and co-creators Nic Green and Laura Bradshaw. All three are in identical suits with identical gold hands and identical gold mouths. And when I say gold, I mean gold. Think woman-on-the-bed-in-Goldfinger gold. Shimmering, uncanny, this golder-than-gold paint makes strange the organs of communication. Later, it rubs off on clothes and skin, leaving grubby, oily marks.

The action of the whole performance is one of making strange. Political discourse and its accompanying gestural language are distorted, viewed as if through one of those fun house mirrors. The three performers slow it down, set it to new rhythms, repeat it to the point of exhaustion. The words of men (because politics is still depressingly male-dominated) and the markers of masculinity are appropriated by three women, whose female bodies are both controlled and freed.

The repetition of key political phrases (“hard working people”, “people who work hard”) can be deadening, but that’s the point. The words are wrung of meaning, scrubbed free of sense or significance. It’s like that trick where you say a word aloud so many times that it sounds strange on your own lips, no longer a word but a mere noise. These soundbites, wheeled out by one political leader after another, are meaningless, empty, hollow.

From within these repeated rhythms, the odd word or phrase burps out: “families”; “calm down, dear”; “pistons firing in all parts of our economy”. And there are some blurted additions, sparing but powerful: David Cameron’s little “dum-de-dum” after stepping down as prime minister; Donald Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy”.

Meanwhile the sharp, precisely choreographed movement slowly morphs from the punctuating gestures of political speechifying – an emphatic fist here, an awkward thumbs-up there – to something more abstract. Elbows shove outwards on the beats of “hard working”, a visual representation of individualistic competition. Bodies roll and loll, buffeted by the fickle storms of political rhetoric.

“Hard”, goes the main refrain. Hard. Hard. Hard. Hard. Hard. Hard. Hard. Hard as in “hard working people”, but also hard as in difficult, hard as in effort. The three women run on the spot, fling their limbs through space, fall to the floor. It looks fucking exhausting. It can be exhausting to watch at times, too, as the same movements and words are replayed over and over and over, changing infinitesimally.

The energy required of spectators is more than worth it, though. Dramaturgically, Cock and Bull is a rigorously honed machine. It begins small and quiet and dangerously close to dull, unafraid to take its time and place its beats precisely. But then it builds and builds, finally spilling out into a sequence of grotesque yet glorious excess. And after the blow-out, the mess and exhaustion. After the self-obsessed outrageousness of machismo extremes, an affecting assertion of womanhood and community.

Cock and Bull feels, in the end, like a ritual of collective catharsis, or a painful exorcism as a prelude to resistance. And as the threats of Cameron and Osborne have been surpassed by those of Trump and Bannon, it strikes me as more necessary than ever.

Cock and Bull is on at the Royal Exchange until 18th March 2017. Click here for more details. 

Advertisement

WSNBM_MPU

Catherine Love

Catherine is a freelance arts journalist and theatre critic. She writes regularly for titles including The Guardian, The Stage and WhatsOnStage. She is also currently an AHRC funded PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, pursuing research into the relationship between text and performance in 21st century British theatre.

Review: Cock and Bull at the Royal Exchange, Manchester Show Info


Written by Nic Green with Laura Bradshaw and Rosana Cade and Simone Kenyon

Cast includes Nic Green, Laura Bradshaw, Rosana Cade

Advertisement

WSNBM_MPU

the
Exeunt
newsletter


Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.


Advertisement

Support-Us3-3-2