What's in a name?

Plenty when it causes newspaper editors, notably at the New York Times, so much consternation that they won't let theatre writers refer to a play by its given name, and seasoned critics feel chicken when ordering tickets.

Yes, chuckles equally seasoned theatre director Shane Bosher, when the show's called Cock you do have to be a bit careful how you refer to it in polite conversation, but don't let the somewhat confronting title put you off.

Cock - as in male roosters and cock-fighting - is a comedy and Silo Theatre is quick to issue a warning about its content: it contains no nudity whatsoever. "It's not even really about sex," says Bosher, who directed it for the 2015 Sydney Mardi Gras Festival.

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"I thought, and I still believe, that this play is a really dynamic and impactful comedy about identity and authenticity - and I know that word has been used and abused, particularly in the last five years - but identity has been a topic of conversation in all our lives as we grapple with what that means in the contemporary world."

As he says, who would have thought gender and sexuality would become such powerful markers of identity? After all, up until recently, you were either female or male and that was that (sexuality, of course, has long been a different matter).

Silo Theatre has always championed LGBT work and Bosher likes that this play extends those conversations to power in relationships: "It's a great take on how the power structures that we put into our relationships intersect with our ideals."

Which brings us back to the contentious title. Playwright Mike Bartlett has been clever rather than crude, says Bosher, using it as a metaphor for a good old-fashioned battle royal of egos: a cock-fight.

The wonderfully awkward dilemma at the heart of the play is a tried and true one: a love triangle but, this time, it develops when John, tired of his high maintenance boyfriend, known only as M, takes a break and, much to his astonishment, meets the woman of his dreams.

Duncan Ragg and Matilda Ridgway star in the play Cock by Mike Bartlett.
Duncan Ragg and Matilda Ridgway star in the play Cock by Mike Bartlett.

Cue an exploration of identity, sexuality, boundaries and our obsessive desire for sureness in Who We Are which culminates at a dinner party where John must make a choice. Bosher believes it'll be relevant to different groups in different ways. If you're a straight woman trying to find love, there's a conversation raised here about how far you'll go to find "Mr Right".

Matt Minto, best known as Shortland Street villain Isaac Worthington, plays M. Minto says the production is made more challenging because, in keeping with Bartlett's wishes, there are no sets, props or miming allowed. It means there's nowhere for an actor to hide.

"It's been a whole two years since we did this the first time and I've tried to approach this production as a completely new thing, so the great thing is finding all sorts of new 'stuff' in the script and, as you change as a person, so does the way you approach a role."

With actor Ben Whishaw as the original lead, Cock won glowing reviews and Olivier Awards when it debuted at London's Royal Court in 2009. It's taken a while to reach this part of the world, partly because of toing and froing about rights.

When he finally obtained them, Bosher's Sydney production was nominated for four Sydney Theatre Awards and won the 2015 Mardi Gras Festival Award for Best Arts Event. Bosher admits the success surprised him.

"We were in quite a small venue with bench seating and, toward the end of the run, we were trying to cram in as many people as possible so we were playing to 150 per cent capacity, which was kind of uncomfortable for people..."

He expects the comedy will do well when it comes to Auckland, saying it's deeply engaging and wonderfully funny. Bosher crosses the ditch with a cast that includes Minto, Matilda Ridgway and Duncan Ragg. Carl Bland joins for the Auckland season.

Lowdown:
What: Cock (Silo Theatre and Auckland Live)
Where & when: Herald Theatre, Thursday - Saturday, August 12