Review: Bull at the Corpus Playroom

Two jobs, three people, four actors…

Week 0 shows face some daunting prospects: rehearsals across the Summer, a staggered return to Cambridge and the usual fight for rehearsal space. Director Ilona Sell and her team, however, seem to have navigated these trials with ease and have returned to live theatre with a brilliant performance of Bull. 

This dark play revolves around one basic idea – there are two jobs and three people. Tony (Alexander Tsang), Thomas (Joe Harrington) and Jessica (Isobel Maxwell) are thrown against one another in this dog-eats-dog capitalist world, where only the most intelligent (and the most brutal) can survive.

Isobel Maxwell and Joe Harrington. Image Credit: Ilona Sell

The set is a simple stage, blank walls and no furniture , and it allows all of the audiences focus to be on the 4 actors. And these actors put on a stellar performance.

Joe Harrington plays the vulnerable Thomas with sincerity and he triumphed in his depiction of Thomas bouncing from stress to stress. Indeed, the audience’s sympathy was wholly with him. In the concluding scene in particular he shone through, playing with his breathing to make the ending a hard to listen to, but incredibly poignant moment.

Isobel Maxwell and Joe Harrington. Photo Credit: Ilona Sell

Isobel Maxwell seemed to revel in the thrill of the chase, in the taunting of Thomas. She smirked and winked her way through the most gruesome moments of bullying, but managed to maintain a sense of humanity in her vulnerability; Jessica’s father is a sticking point in the play that she portrayed excellently.

Beside her, Alexander Tsang plays the crisp ( literally – his suit is immaculately pressed compared to the scruffy Thomas) Tony. With amazing diction, he plays the posh-boy bad-guy well and expertly makes every moment of physical contact uncomfortable for Thomas and for the audience.

Alexander Tsang. Image Credit: Ilona Sell

Temitope, playing Carter, was clinical in her depiction of the stern boss and her entrance seemed to turn the play upside down; predator and prey were no longer so clear. Turning her back to Thomas, she asserted her dominance and threw him disdain.

Although pacing often needs to be watched, particularly during the most emotional and dramatic scenes, this is a masterclass in acting.

Temitope Idowu. Image Credit: Ilona Sell

Special mention should also be given to the lighting designer David He and fight choreographer Jack Ward. The former used the transition into red light as a beautifully threatening moment, solidifying the threat of the red-clad Isobel Maxwell. The latter created a heart-breaking fight scene that showed the final, desperate moments of the play.

Overall, Bull is a brilliant, but simple play. Ilona Sell excels in putting her cast at the forefront of the show and has engineered every movement to reflect this dog-eats-dog, predator and prey narrative. Congratulations to the cast and crew!

4 stars.

Cover Credit: Coco Wheeler