January 05, 2016
What better way to ease yourself back into work than by going to see a play set in an office? Mike Bartlett’s Olivier award-winning 2013 play has been revived by the Young Vic with an all new cast and some exceptional minimalist stage design.
It’s a fine line between office politics and playground bullying. That’s the message that Mike Bartlett runs with throughout Bull, a play that through Soutra gilmour's smart staging offers up both seated and standing ringside seats for the performance’s entire 55 minute duration. Make no mistake about it, this is an event. You’re half expected to be expected to cheer and jeer as you take your seats, various music hits from your local gym play out. Eye of the Tiger? Check. Don’t Stop Believin’? Check. Before the lights go down you are more than ready to get involved.
The set itself comprises a solitary square that will remind viewers of a boxing ring and has already been utilised earlier in 2015 as part of Bull’s original revival at the Young Vic. It says a lot about the play that there was more than enough interest in tickets for another revival so soon. Presumably the marketing helps, the gorgeous silhouette of a rushing bull set against a yellow background is thematically stunning. And, as one finds out, a fitting symbol for the play.
As the lights go up, you are thrust into the world of Thomas, a man in his mid-thirties nervously awaiting a forthcoming talk with Carter, a higher up in the company. It quickly becomes apparent that the ‘chat’ is a little bit more serious than Thomas realised; his colleagues Isobel and Tony have neglected to inform him to bring any paperwork and although Thomas thought this was an informal meeting to assess who may be chosen for redundancy, it actually turns out it is the day that Carter will be choosing who to move on. Before Carter turns up, it’s time for Isobel and Tony to work their magic, isolate their colleague and hopefully throw him to the wolves. It’s nothing personal, just business. Apparently.
For 55 minutes, the audience is subjected to a variety of verbal assaults on Thomas; it’s uncomfortable, often darkly comic and always mesmerising. There’s a certain tense cloud that hangs over the play too; will Carter realise Isobel and Tony are bullying their colleague? Will Thomas stand up for himself against such a tirade? And can you take an hour of near constant bullying? During our showing, there were three walkouts from people presumably finding everything a little close to the bone and it’s not hard to see why. Bull is impeccably directed by Clare Lizzimore and features a stellar cast in the form of Marc Wooton, Susannah Fielding, Nigel Lindsay and Max Bennett. You’d certainly be wise to pick up a ticket, just be aware that the play certainly isn’t for everyone despite its humorous asides and gloriously written speeches.
Bull runs at the Young Vic theatre until January 16th. For tickets, please click here.
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By Henry Fosdike