The Farm: Cockfight

State Theatre Centre

Review: Robert Housley

‘Survival of the fittest’ is integral to the Darwinian notion of natural selection, a theory widely accepted as the means by which all living species perpetuate themselves while evolving and adapting to their environments. The notion has its naysayers but even they would be hard-pressed to deny its veracity after witnessing the evolutionary power-play on show in Cockfight. The production was devised by the Gold Coast-based collective The Farm and presented in Perth as part of the MoveMe Festival.

Joshua Thomson & Gavin Webber in Cockfight

Cockfight’s double-entendre title pinpoints a particular persuasion of power-play and evolution: the generational change between males. Performers Gavin Webber (Gavin) and Joshua Thomson (Josh) are respectively the aging rooster and virile cockerel. Their figurative coop is the workplace: a bland office (set design by Joey Ruigrok and Joshua Thomson) replete with a desk, swivel chair on casters, filing cabinet, whiteboard, drab walls and a bank of fluorescent tubes overhead. It is Gavin’s unchallenged domain until young upstart Josh arrives.

The cataclysm that will ultimately unfold is suggested in the dramatic opening scene which intersperses blackouts (lighting design by Mark Howett/Lighting Realiser Chloe Ogilvie) with a continuum of scenes – a semaphore signalman, a performer atop the filing cabinet showering the other below with paper – powered Luke Smiles’ dark orchestral music on a loop.

The opening scene hints at the lengths the performers will go as they use every element of the set to articulate the narrative. The pair perform a ‘props pas de deux’ on the desk top, use a Texta on the whiteboard for sound effects and utilise the chest-high filing cabinet for everything but filing. Their Spiderman-like vignettes against the office walls defy gravity, like many of the elements in their intensely physical conjoined duets.

It all seems so serious, but much of it is very funny and laden with absurd humour. This is achieved using both action and words; at one point, without notice, they suddenly transmogrify into screeching chimpanzees.

The spoken part of the show is prominent, especially in the first half. This can be a low point in dance pieces – dancers are not vocal actors and vice versa – but the performing pair do a fine job with the text and the comedic timing it frequently requires. Gavin’s ridiculous put-down scene of Josh’s height is made especially funny because his diminishing movements are augmented by a totally silly story about this proposed deficiency.

Cockfight 2.JPG

Dance is a tough discipline made even more challenging when the performers push their choreography to the limits. When the pair tied their neckties together – while still wearing them – and performed an anguished late scene, they truly were testing the boundaries. Chiropractor anyone?

Cockfight‘s style of narrative-driven, accessible contemporary dance had the audience in raptures with an extended ovation and multiple curtain calls at its conclusion.

Cockfight is performed as part of the 12-day MoveMe Festival at the State Theatre Centre of WA. The show runs until 22 September.