Review: Cock and Bull (Nic Green)

The Progress Festival presents a play by Scotland’s Nic Green in Toronto

Cock and Bull, conceived and directed by Scotland’s Nic Green and currently being presented by FADO Performance Art Centre as part of the Progress Festival at The Theatre Centre, was originally devised for the eve of the 2015 UK General election that saw the Conservative Party’s David Cameron re-elected with an increased share of the vote. Winner of the 2016 Total Theatre Award for best visual/physical theatre at Edinburgh, the show sees three women (Green, Laura Bradshaw, and Rosana Cade) create their own party conference, slipping into the role of vacuous male politicians with mushroom cuts and savage aplomb.

Don’t expect Top Girls-style discourse here; this is much more of a performance art or dance piece than a character or plot-driven drama. What few words exist are there for soundscape, a satirical repetition of party line mantra that loses all meaning as the politicians yammer on about “hard-working people” and lowering taxes. The phrases are broken up, units stretched and blended to an overwhelming extent.

Working with simultaneous precision, the trio expertly exhibits a manic automaton-like intensity that gradually works its way up into a gladhanding sexual frenzy, as they strip (some with the help of the audience) and gyrate. They make good use of an over-the-top song about the American dream, which appears to be a combination of money and sexism, that features deliberately clumsy edits, “American” overlaid with the word “British,” and varying other references to Cameron replacing Americanisms.

The hour is at the same time interminable and exciting, frustrating and funny. As soon as you want to absolutely scream with the inertia of it, something abruptly changes. The actors push each scene of repetition to and past the breaking point, so that anything new becomes a surprise that breaks the tension and gets a laugh.

Visually, the most striking aspect is thick metallic paint over the actors’ mouths and hands, causing the women to eerily shine in parts, like gilded Tin Men who have stolen and eaten the treasury. Their neat suit-and-tie combos all bear metal handprints on the reverse, giving the impression of an eternal circular back-patting. These outfits are accompanied by statements recalling Cameron’s chiding of populist political rival Jeremy Corbyn to properly wear a suit and tie in the House, a telling moment of classism in British political discourse.

If you want to see the hour version of Cock and Bull, you’re out of luck; the performance was one night only. However, on Saturday afternoon, two-thirds of company is presenting a durational performance, designed to span the length of an average House of Commons sitting, where audiences may come and go throughout the performance. It will be fascinating to see whether Green and Cade can maintain the sheer focus and energy of the show the entire time.

Like much of politics, it will be a marathon of listening to nothing. At least this show is honest about it.

Details:

  • Cock and Bull runs February 2, 2019 at 2PM at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. W)
  • The show is a 7-hour-41-minute version of the hour-long show reviewed here. Audiences can come and go throughout the performance.
  • Tickets are $15 and only available at the door, or are free with a ticket from the January 30th performance.
  • The show feature simulated sexual context and partial nudity, and is recommended for mature audiences.

Photo of Nic Green by Manuel Vason