Bull: fight or fiesta?* (Young Vic – Review)

*That’s a Hemingway reference. Look it up.

From Mike Bartlett (King Charles III) comes an office realpolitik satire, deep with underdog insecurities, personal digging and deadly snares. It’s The Office meets Lord of the Flies meets The Apprentice with a whip of Darwin mixed in. An (anonymous) company is downsizing and a team of three are up for evaluation. In what opens as poking fun, and ends as a culling, ‘Doubting’ Thomas is the quarry, backed into a corner before even realising he has reason to hide. There’s a tell in the design before you’re even sure whether the hyenas are just playing with one of there own, or hunting to kill: they’re all cut from the same suit… (no spoilers here!)

Played by a doe-eyed Sam Troughton (Robin Hood), you can’t stop yourself laughing at Thomas’ fear, while Isabelle (Eleanor Matsuura) and Tony (Adam James) stalk the ring. That is until you feel horribly implicated in your ringside seats (or spots – stand ringside for a tenner if you dare feel the full whip of this brutish production). Isabelle lures Thomas in with her cape of red lipstick until the bull is roughly charging around the ring. Tony flaunts his fitness and public school pride with shirt stripping, schoolboy bullying. Then Neil Stuke enters the ring for the climatic show down, as his employees set on their own – this time as a performance for the boss. With horrible tragic inevitability all ends in far deeper water than just a pool of tears.

Sam Troughton and Neil Stuke in rehearsal for Bull (photo: Simon Annand)
Sam Troughton and Neil Stuke in rehearsal for Bull (photo: Simon Annand)

Soutra Gilmour’s boxing ring design for bullish behaviour and Clare Lizzimore’s beautifully executed direction hem in the action to a pacey 55 minutes. Hilarious, astute, and quietly barbaric, Bull is playing at the Young Vic until 7 Feb 2015.

If you saw Saxon Court at Southwark Playhouse (2014) – this is that, but without the boob job and the Christmas party, and a lot more bite. If you liked this you might also like: Game, also by Bartlett, coming up at the Almeida (23 Feb – 4 April 2015)

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