Hilarious, brutal and highly effective, says Matt Gurtler.
‘There’s a stain on your jacket.’
As the play starts, BULL’s safety curtain slowly disappears to reveal eerie, clinical lighting, illuminating the characters of Isobel (Megan Gilbert) and Thomas (Adam Mirsky), employees fighting to keep their jobs. This ominous opening sets the scene for Mike Bartlett’s taut, claustrophobic comedy of workplace bullying: Isobel and Tony (Louis Norris) brutally taunt Thomas and successfully terrify him. He is no match for them, or for the script’s hilariously cutting lines, and it becomes obvious from Mirsky’s increasing anxiety that he is the play’s eponymous Bull, taunted and stalked by matadors Norris and Gilbert. This idea is further supported by the recurrent touches of red in the set and costumes.
The trio on stage continue to build tension and slowly more is revealed about why they’re in the room together and of the relationship between the three of them. All becomes very clear when Mr Carter (Benedict Flett) finally arrives to assess the progress of the three employees: one must be fired. My personal favourite moment was when Mr Carter sat down on his corporate throne and revealed his red socks – he is also a bull-fighter. The disdain and disappointment of Carter is beautifully juxtaposed with the ever-increasing panic of Thomas and the refined playground teasing from Isobel and Tony.
Unlike most play, BULL’s climax is clear from the start, but to call that a spoiler is to miss the point. The genius of the play is the dialogue and the savagery, fury, insecurity and animosity with which it is delivered. The cast are all stellar. Norris and Gilbert work wonderfully together and portray some of the most fantastically terrible people ever seen on the ADC’s stage. Flett skilfully portrays a man far older than himself, with all the arrogance that comes with being the boss of a large company. However, some care could have been taken to make Carter look older than the others. A little grey hair would not have gone amiss.
If there is anything that could be improved in this production, it is the character of Thomas. Although Mirsky works well with a complex role and is very much ‘like an autistic penguin’, I felt the character was a little too exaggerated, perhaps because of performance, direction or the script itself. By the end, feelings of sympathy for Thomas were entirely absent as he didn’t feel like a believable character. In fact, it seemed bizarre that such an awkward, pathetic character had ever found employment in the first place.
But small grievances do not stop BULL from being a phenomenal play. The show is most definitely worth a watch and I hope that the audience will be larger in the remaining performances.