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A CurtainUp London Review
Bull on the other hand is about working relationships and set in a ring, maybe a boxing ring or a bull ring. The audience surround the ring, some standing at the ringside, very close to the action.
This black comedy exploits the most vicious company culture of corporate condoned bullying. The night I saw it there was no cheering or booing from the audience, just sharp intakes of shocked breath at some of the cruelest comments and laughter from others. I have trained to counsel and support people who have been bullied in the workplace and often bullying is subtle. But there is nothing subtle about the treatment meted out to Thomas. It is really unpleasant and inhuman. It degrades those that play the game, for it has to be a game.
I often find it hard to laugh at the inept ridiculed and so it was with Bull; I felt too much empathy for the victim. Other things puzzled me. How did Thomas (Sam Troughton) get a job alongside these thrusting alpha business people? I am a great admirer of Mike Bartlett's canon of plays, each one different from the others but Bull left me feeling troubled.
The bullfight analogy works when we see Thomas's path to his own destruction as he returns allowing Isobel and Tony to score another blow like the bull in the ring being killed slowly for the entertainment of the baying crowd. Is that the audience? Should we have intervened to stop this?
The performances are magnificent. Eleanor Marsuura's tall, haughty, ball breaking but damaged super intelligent panther pacing the ring ready to make Thomas feel insecure. Sam Troughton is excellent as floundering Thomas, so out of his league and when he does lose control he's explosive. Clare Lizzimore's production is tense as they circle the water cooler, the carpet a soft pretty blue.
We learn the back stories of the three contenders for two roles in the organization. I just hope that Isobel and Tony get their comeuppance as younger and vicious colleagues come to the fore.
For Jordan G Teicher's review of this production in New York at 59E59 in 2013 go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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