Thursday, September 27, 2018


Joshus Thomson and Gavin Webber in Cockfight



Directed by Kate Harman., Julian Louis, Gavin Webber, Joshua Thompson.  Performed  by Joshua Thompson and Gavin Webber.  Directed by Kate Harman, Julian Louis, Joshua Thomson and Gavin Webber..  Lighting design by Mark Howatt. Lighting realiser. Chloe Ogilvie. Sound design. Luke Smiles. Set design. Joshua Thomson. Produced by The Farm in association with NORPA and Performing Lines. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. September 26 2018.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Anyone who has ever suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous office politics will identify with The Farm’s ingeniously staged Cockfight. Part dance, part circus, part sitcom and totally revelatory in its perceptive analysis of the human condition at its most ambitious, protective, devious and ruthless The Cockfight is the blood sport of upwardly mobile and the fight to the death of the assailed incumbent. The marketing hype describes Cockfight as “The Office on steroids”. Its physicality is breathtaking, gravity defying and perilously teetering on the precipice of physical and psychological injury.

Gavin (Gavin Webber) has been secure in his tenure as a middle management official, with a specialized knowledge of the migratory habits of the Mutton Birds who migrate from the northern regions of the globe on their arduous journey to the breeding grounds of Australia and Antarctica . It is a metaphor for the self-fulfilling life of the public servant, an inescapable analogy for any who have embarked on the precarious scaling of the APS ladder.

Josh (Joshua Thomson) is the new kid on the block, clean-cut, well dressed, conservatively groomed and ready to assume the master’s mantle. What follows is a battle of brawn and brain, wile and wildness, and ambition versus tradition. Set within Joshua Thomson’s purposefully conventional office design, the show opens with Gavin, securely seated at his desk as Luke Smiles’ sound design captures the tension building tones of a B Grade horror  thriller. Gavin’s secure and confident world is about to be shattered by the arrival of the young trainee with ambitious designs.

A mood of suspended anticipation swiftly turns to a power play of manic proportions. Familiar office items become the weaponry of supremacy as objects are rearranged with lightning dexterity, bodies intertwine in mortal combat, tables are upturned, doors slammed, a filing cabinet overturned and bodies dragged by neckties around the neck. The irony of Cat Stevens’s Wild World is inescapable as Gavin lies vanquished and Josh emerges the victor.  It is inevitable that in the cockfight there will always be the winner and the loser, and the old dog cannot learn the new tricks, but in a moment of sombre contemplation, who will play the old dog next time.

Cockfight discards text in favour of physical interaction. The show bears the hallmarks of rehearsal room improvisation, refinement and quicksilver choreography. The timing is masterful, the trust laudable and the intention precise and expertly executed. Webber and Thomson marry dance with drama, slick comic timing with skilfully choreographed stillness and motion and moments of comedy and pathos with hesartstopping possibilities of danger. The Farm and the Northern Rivers Performing Arts (NORPA) have collaborated to create a work that is original, insightful and thoroughly entertaining. At seventy minutes without an interval, it is slightly repetitive and some sequence could be abbreviated, but this had no effect on the audience’s rapturous appreciation of the two performers’ remarkable skill to survive the thrust and parry of power play politics in the workplace. 

I understand that this one night stand was the final performance of  Cockfight after its long there is little to be gained by urging readers to rush for their tickets. But, if it should be revived in this renowned public service town, be sure to be the very first in line…whatever it takes!