by Mike Bartlett
Young Vic (The Maria) 66 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 7 Februyary 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed, Sat 2.45pm.
Runs 55min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Carole Woddis 20 January.
A unique, challenging, revealing, theatrical view of the world.
Mike Bartlett has a habit of showing human behaviour as people pitted against each others as though in a boxing or bull ring (My Child). It makes for shuddering if compulsive theatre. He can also pen the expansive such as the sprawling Earthquakes in London or the hilarious fantasy on a theme of our next and future monarch, King Charles III.
Bull falls into his intimate schema. As you enter, the Young Vic’s Maria studio space has all the atmosphere of a noisy corrida, outdoor concert or boxing ring. Tiers of seating – and standing – around a square ring backed by loud, amped music geared to send audiences into headbanging numbness or, climaxing in Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’, unadulterated ecstasy.
By the time the cast enter, the atmosphere is hyper. Three characters congregate round an office water-fountain: Tony, Isobel, Thomas. Tony has the upper hand – in Adam James’ smooth and smirking tormentor. So too Eleanor Matsuura’s Isobel, never missing a beat.
The object of their goading is Sam Troughton’s Thomas. Troughton has played many a doughty Shakespearean foot-soldier in his time. Here he has all the clumsiness of the outsider and inevitable victim, the employee who is to be sacked in a downsizing exercise.
Like a wounded bull, it is only a matter of time before the three `matadors’ – Tony and Isobel augmented by the presence of senior exec, the always dependably malevolent Neil Stuke – reduce him to a shuddering wreck. Office politics and the artful craft of emotional bullying was never so brutally or so succinctly portrayed as in this short 55 minutes, culminating in the final coup de grace.
Bartlett catches all the subtlety – and cruelty – of office game-playing. And the audience, from laughing at the expertise with which Tony and Isobel play their victim, gradually grow more silent as the awfulness – and maybe their own reflection – becomes palpable in Thomas’s demise. As Isobel glibly and without guilt puts it: "Tony and me we’re really horrible to you…I think it’s instinct…goes on all the time…everywhere. I think it’s actually how things are supposed to be."
Tony: Adam James.
Isobel: Eleanor Matsuura.
Carter: Neil Stuke.
Thomas: Sam Troughton.
Director: Clare Lizzimore.
Designer: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Associate director: Jonathan O’Boyle.
Associate designer: Rachel Wingate.
Associate lighting: Kati Hind.
A Supporting Wall /Young Vic Production.
Bull was first perf at Crucible StudioTheatre Sheffield on 6 February 2013.
It subsequently transferred to 59E59 Theaters New York on 25 April 25 2013.
First performance in The Maria at the Young Vic on 8 January 2015.