BULL

Wed 8th – Sat 11th June 2016

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 10:03 on 9th Jun 2016

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BULL is an hour of abject horror which had its small, opening-night audience squirming in their seats. This was exactly the intended effect. This tense, concentrated play makes its point early and then drives it home with so little mercy that many people seemed physically uncomfortable as they left. Think Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: Corporate Edition. It was completely brilliant - cancel all your plans and buy a ticket immediately.

BULL's central issue becomes clear within moments of the beginning of the play. Three characters emerge onto the stage. Isobel (Megan Gilbert), a confident and polished-looking woman in a black business suit, Tony (Louis Norris), an equally well-turned-out, City Boy type, and the odd one out: Thomas (Adam Mirsky). The three are working in the same team of a company which is downsizing, and there are only two jobs available. Isobel and Tony are quick to begin to offer Thomas advice. They tell him to stop shuffling, they ask why he didn't wear his best suit, they tell him he's got dirt on his face. Things start out light-hearted, if a little cruel, but quickly descend into a total destruction of everything Thomas is, every aspect of his life they can get access to, as they dance around him, tearing him apart. School bullies grow into psychopaths.

This production, directed by Daniel Emery, capitalised on the very black humour of the script, and on its unbearable refusal to release any tension at all. In spite of the laughs it certainly elicited (perhaps more from discomfort than anything else), the relentless crescendo kept raising the stakes, until in the play's closing moments, the audience couldn't laugh, couldn't move. A large part of the creation of this tension was the way Gilbert and Norris moved around the stage. They backed away from and moved towards Mirsky almost like dancers, sometimes abandoning him, isolating him, sometimes closing in claustrophobically until he had nowhere to move. There was also a very interesting use of colour in the otherwise sparse design of the play. The stage had a white backdrop, hanging fluorescent lights overhead, and a single red office chair - the throne of the awaited boss. The red of the chair was echoed in other details: Isobel's high heels and lipstick, Carter's (Benedict Flett) socks, Tony's tie and the lining of his jacket. Like in everything else, Thomas was excluded and shut out of the club. His dark brown suit, brown shoes and limp-looking paisley tie separated him visually from the other characters, and the red colours linking them formed a kind of team, a united front working against Thomas.

The four actors who brought this monstrosity to life were all incredible. Adam Mirsky's Thomas was a kind of everyman, a real, jerky, vulnerable human against the heartless robots out to destroy him. His movements were always a little less calm and collected than those of the other characters, but they deteriorated markedly over the course of the action. The more he was undermined, the more tense he became, wringing his hands, frantically removing his glasses and putting them back on, stepping nervously around the stage. His dialogue also became more frantically delivered as time wore on: he lost the middle ground, and everything was murmured or shouted. Megan Gilbert's Isobel was in stark contrast to this. Her clear face, deliberate movements, measured, almost didactic voice, and pursed lips showed a collected disdain for Thomas, and a sense of terrible control over the situation. Louis Norris as Tony was her more slippery team mate. Where Isobel was frankly and openly horriblle, Tony's speech largely shied away from bald insults, and the devastation came instead from Norris' measured delivery, treading a fine line between matey, and completely condescending. Benedict Flett's brief appearance as boss Carter only served to emphasize the control which Isobel and Tony were able to exert over the situation, and Thomas' distinct lack of it.

BULL is far from easy viewing. Filled with black-as-night humour, it relentlessly presents the audience with all the cruelty of schoolyard bullying, amplified by the sophistication of adulthood. It will quite possibly awaken within you more than one memory of a disastrous afternoon on the climbing frame. In spite of its darkness however, its cleverness, and its relentlessness are a great (albeit slightly twisted) pleasure to watch. This play is brilliant, featuring deft direction and wonderful acting. The ADC Theatre was far from full, but I strongly urge you to take time out of your post-exam revelry and go along. I'm considering forming a survivors' group to help you rehabilitate afterwards.

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