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Mike Bartlett's dark comedy about warring work colleagues returns to the Young Vic.
In an office, even the smallest crack of the knuckles can be as powerful as a fist to a colleague’s face. Clare Lizzimore’s stunningly nasty production of ‘Bull’ (recast for a return to the Young Vic) sets Mike Bartlett’s drama of workplace microaggressions in a wrestling ring: sparks fly.
Three employees of a grim-sounding company are waiting for a meeting where one-third of their number will be made redundant – as recession hits, it’s the same across the whole company. They make up an ensemble cast that’s as tight as their team is dysfunctional.
Thomas (Marc Wootton) is lumbering, less agile then his two bullying colleagues, who know just how to stir him up to the point of a bellowing rage. Tony (Max Bennett) is a ruthless alpha male desperate for his co-workers to caress his well-honed torso. Isobel (Susannah Fielding) is a women who uses her sexuality to make Thomas so uncomfortable he’s drenched in sweat, as she switches from flirtation to taunts to revelations of child abuse.
She’s a pretty implausible concoction, straight from sexists’ grimmest projections of what happens when you let a woman in an office. But we’re not quite in the real world here. The front rows of the audience line the walls of a symbolic wrestling ring, a corporate arena of empty posturing and display. Nasty office party hits blare out, and surreal touches make it clear that the real blows are psychological, not physical.
As their horrendous boss turns up to join the bash, he trains our eyes on the sheer, reflective emptiness of his corporate values. The buzzword pressures that Bartlett satirises – to be proactive, passionate, synergistic, schooled in core competencies – are felt everywhere from corporate banking to a call centre. We might be watching four white people in suits finagle over dull sales figures,but this play’s message couldn’t feel more urgent.