Northern actor Joel Harper-Jackson has recently taken over the role of M (originally played by Taron Egerton) in COCK the play in London’s West End, alongside Bridgerton’s Jonathan Bailey. Originally the understudy, Joel had to step in mid-show to take over from Taron in the first preview. Here, we discuss this immense pressure and how he’s finding it, as well as chatting about the hilarious and often challenging production. 


How’s the show been going so far? 

Incredibly. It’s constantly evolving and changing. I have friends that came to see me when I first went on and then again more recently who have really noticed that. It almost feels like a completely different show which is nice. 


The absence of Taron required you to step up from your role as an understudy and take over the co-leading role. Can you tell us a little bit about this experience? 

It’s surreal, it’s been extraordinary, I’m still finding it hard to believe that it’s happened. It only started to get me contacts, I auditioned for the role back in October/November time for an understudy, so I was initially covering both of the roles of John and M. I was in two minds as to whether to take the job initially because I assumed that I’d never even get it. I decided though that while I might not get on, it would be great to watch them working in the rehearsal room. Cut to now, it already feels like it’s starting to change my life. I’m having the best time; it was initially slightly overwhelming but, you know, what an opportunity! I’m just trying to make the most of it, concentrate on the present, and keep my feet firmly on the ground. 


For our readers who haven’t seen it, can you explain briefly what the story is about? 

It’s about a gay couple, M and John (myself and Jonathan Baileys characters, respectively) whose seven-year-long relationship is starting to go a bit stale. They separate and, in that time, John meets a girl and has sex with her out of the blue. Having never before found women attractive, he gets a little bit scared, runs back to his boyfriend and wants to get back with him. I think it’s a wonderful and hilarious piece with some really great moments that challenge the audience. It’s quite an important piece at the moment because people have started to question whether labels are really necessary or whether they can hinder them. I know they certainly work for many people who are longing to be a part of something.  


What’s your stance on it?  

I hope we come to a point in society where they’re no longer necessary because I do think they can limit you in some ways. I came out when I was extraordinarily young – I think eleven – as gay. I think back then I was of a very black and white mentality and thought you either like boys or you like girls. I eventually had a bisexual boyfriend who completely changed my mindset on sexuality. 


Do you think labels tie society into quite a binary mindset and therefore stunt people’s room for exploration? 

Exactly that, I think it’s very limiting. I have a niece of around 14 and we often speak about sexuality, and I asked her how many in her year fall under the umbrella and she said around 40 which obviously demonstrates such progression. Even within the space of a few years, things are getting better so I’m just intrigued to see whether we will get to the point with them where labels aren’t really used anymore.  


You’ve touched upon a few of the themes of the play; what do you think is the most important to you, personally? 

That love is not black and white. It can be extraordinarily ugly, and it has no bounds – even if someone in your life does something horrible to you, you can’t help who you love. I think I have a very loving, simple relationship with my real-life partner, and I guess it’s made me appreciate how wonderful we have it. Love is love and you can’t help it even if it’s not good for you.  


This performance is different in many ways to what you’ve been in before. What do you think is the main way that it has required something completely new from you? 

There are so many things; firstly, there’s no set and no props so it’s completely left up to the actor to create this world simply with what they do. There are also no mics in this show so that’s been another big difference and challenge. I’ve only done one play before and that was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which was multi-roled so I had lots of little roles but never held the stage for the amount of time that I do in this. It’s extraordinarily exposing but freeing. This job has taught me so many things and I’m constantly learning something every day, especially with the amazing actors that are around me. It has been a challenge I’m not going to lie but I feel like I’ve done okay and I’m just trying to enjoy it all and soak up as much information and knowledge as I can. 


And as challenging as it may have been, what or who could you have not done this without? 

I’d say the most important people have been my understudy team; they have been my emotional crutch. There’s this girl Jess who understudies Jade Anouka and she has been the most supportive lovely hug of a human being. If ever I’m doubting myself, she’s there behind me. John who understudied Phil the older character has kind of been my guide on stage because originally, we were both covering both parts. 


And finally, what’s next for you in 2022? 

A long holiday! I live on a farm up north so I’m going to go back home and be with my family for a bit. And then I’ll be going to go to Canada, Spain, and Mykonos. I’m also auditioning for a few projects at the moment, but I’d like to now try screen and experience another part of the industry that I haven’t yet. This job changes by the day so I don’t have anything yet in the diary but I’m sure something will come along. 

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