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Adelaide Festival review: Cock Cock... Who’s There?

Adelaide Festival

Samira Elagoz brings a luminously intelligent lens to gendered culture in this hard-edged multi-media stage work, but – between gut punches that reveal her audience’s worst judgmental impulses – she misses the chance to connect emotionally.

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The idea that a public conversation about gender exists is a fallacy. In reality, there are many conversations –  some led by feminists, some led by incels, some led by hapless politicians.

It is the responsibility of an artist to determine how and where their work fits into these public conversations. In Cock Cock… Who’s There? Samira Elagoz enters the gendered fray at an unfamiliar point – she does it unapologetically and as a woman in complete control of the story.

For those audience members naturally inclined to champion Elagoz, this is a thrilling experience; a promise that something not often seen is about to unfurl on stage.

Featuring cinéma vérité-style documentary fragments interspersed with live narration and performance from Elagoz on stage, Cock Cock… Who’s There? is built around the artist’s first-hand experience of rape and its aftermath.

Beginning with excerpts of conversations that she had with friends and family on her “rape anniversary”, the show then wends through a series of artistic projects she conducted in the wake of her assault. All involve her interacting with men who she arranged to meet via online platforms.

In initiating and recording these online and real-life encounters, Elagoz roundly rejects the narrative of helpless fragility that is often foisted upon victims of sexual assault, while also creating a platform to uncover patterns of gendered behaviour.

Men make crude attempts to impress, belittle, seduce, and – occasionally – connect with Elagoz as she dodges and weaves, skilfully inhabiting different female roles and drawing out new and unexpected responses from her co-stars.

It is an effective technique, but also ultimately tedious. Elagoz is very smart, likely smarter than most of us sitting in the audience, and easily corners us in positions where our most questionable values and judgments are revealed and condemned.

Over and over again, we are forced to examine why we are assigning blame, judgment, and anxiety to Elagoz’s part in these interactions while her male subject’s behaviour is allowed to pass relatively unexamined.

But, in adopting the role of puppet master, Elagoz becomes elusive – for the audience, as for the men she meets in the course of her art making, she is always performative and never fully genuine.

This is a deliberate choice and one she is well within her rights to make. The trade-off for complete control, though, is the loss of the ability to connect emotionally. In Cock Cock… Who’s There? we are left searching for an emotional hook to help make lasting sense of the work’s intelligent ideas.

In a scene almost at the very end of the show, Elagoz seems to be offering it –allowing us to glimpse that her power co-exists with pain as she sobs in the arms of her mum. Too quickly, this moment of uncomplicated truth is replaced by one last attempt to wrong-foot the audience, and the flash of empathetic insight that rippled through the theatre is quashed.

Cock Cock… Who’s There? is showing at the Main Theatre at AC Arts until March 3.

See more Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here.

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