Extraordinary and demanding double act is full of psychological drama

Cockfight. Directed by Directed by Kate Harman, Julian Louis, Joshua Thomson and Gavin Webber. The Farm in association with NORPA and Performing Lines. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, September 26, 8pm.

Gavin Webber (older man) and Joshua Thomson (younger man) in <i>Cockfight</i>. Photo: Darcy Grant

Gavin Webber (older man) and Joshua Thomson (younger man) in Cockfight. Photo: Darcy Grant

Cockfight is an extraordinary double act. It is easy to see, as program notes tell us, that it is about the relationship between the two protagonists, Gavin Webber and Joshua Thomson, within an office environment. But how it is played out defies easy categorisation.
Both Webber and Thomson have dance and physical theatre backgrounds and some of the most powerful moments in the 70-minute work were strongly and demandingly physical.

There were several remarkable duets including one that happened in slow motion and in dim lighting as Webber and Thomson wrapped themselves around each other, folding and unfolding their bodies into a variety of shapes. There was another that was brightly lit and faster in pace in which the two men balanced precariously on and around the office desk, occasionally using the wall of the set to aid or expand the movements. Another was filled with unison dancing as the pair threw themselves in the air and, before landing on the floor, turned themselves over while parallel to the ground.

Joshua Thomson (younger man) and Gavin Webber (older man) in Cockfight. Photo: Darcy Grant

Joshua Thomson (younger man) and Gavin Webber (older man) in Cockfight. Photo: Darcy Grant

But coupled with this dance-making was an undertone of psychological drama and angst. Webber worked for a while with Meryl Tankard, whose connection to dance theatre exponent Pina Bausch is well-known, and occasionally I felt a Bauschian influence in Cockfight. But unlike a work from Bausch, with Cockfight anything remotely filled with angst quickly turned into something akin to contemporary slapstick — a ruckus in which filing cabinets and chairs were tossed around the space.

Joshua Thomson (younger man) and Gavin Webber (older man) in Cockfight. Photo: Darcy Grant

Joshua Thomson (younger man) and Gavin Webber (older man) in Cockfight. Photo: Darcy Grant

A hilarious metaphor of bird migration ran through the piece. Webber explained to Thomson, somewhat patronisingly, that a particular variety of bird had, as it got older, an exceptionally wide wing span and was able to fly long distances with definite grace. The younger bird was not in the same class, the inference being that Thomson, the younger office worker, was unable to match Webber’s skill and knowledge, not to mention his appearance. Webber’s explanation was spoken, and there was a fair amount of text used throughout. But the spoken word was always accompanied by some brilliant movement and gesture, especially from Webber.

There were some moments that filled me with anxiety, especially towards the end as Webber and Thomson attached themselves to each other with their neckties and proceeded to drag themselves along the floor, under the table and on top of a filing cabinet and frequently looked as though they would choke. But there were other moments that were pure comedy, and pure social comment on what might transpire in an office situation.

Cockfight was a mixed bag, episodic in structure and multi-faceted emotionally. Webber and Thomson each gave an outstanding performance. It was fun to be there in the middle of it all.