‘Muscular, Taut and Superbly Well Written’: An interview with the director of BULL

Sophie Dickinson 8 June 2016

Seeing a play about workplace bullying isn’t a typical Week Seven activity. However, Dan Emery’s directorial debut, BULL, sounds utterly captivating. TCS got in touch to find out more.

Tell us about the show! 

BULL is a play about the innate human desire to act cruelly. Put more simply, it’s a play about workplace bullying, and the cut- throat approach to work found in many big businesses. Tony, Isobel and Thomas know that, due to ‘cut backs’, one of them is to be fired within the day BULL is set in. Over the course of an hour, Isobel and Tony – public school types who are completely at home in a big bank – bully Thomas (it’s implied that this has been going on for a long time), looking to destabilise him and make sure that it’s him who gets fired. Some very awful things are said and done. Nonetheless, despite this and its premise, the play is seriously hilarious: even after five weeks of rehearsals, I find it hard to stifle a giggle at certain moments!

How have the cast found performing such a high-pressured play?

Although the play is only an hour long, the actors never get a rest: there are no scene breaks, or even any musical interludes. It’s just three people in one room, talking for an hour. It’s also a hugely physical play. From the first rehearsal, I’ve tried to impress upon the actors the metaphor of the bullfight implied in the play’s title: Megan Gilbert (Isobel) and Louis Norris (Tony) are constantly moving, and Adam Mirsky (Thomas) is always chasing them, trying and failing to fend them off. There’s also a lot of pressure on the actors which comes from what they are being made to say. All four characters – even Thomas – are essentially unlikeable, and it would be hard for anyone, not least such a lovely cast, to get themselves to the point where they could say such vile things. Unquestionably they’ve gotten themselves there. I’ve been really lucky, this being my first play as director, to be able to work with such brilliant actors. BULL is a play to stretch even the most confident of thesps, though, and it’s been really fun to take already very experienced actors (even if still freshers) outside of their comfort zones, and to a place where they can really show off. Theatre is at its most exciting when you can sense just how hard the actors are working, and this is one where you should see the sweat pouring off the actors by the end.

Does theatre have a duty to go beyond just entertainment?

I don’t think theatre has a duty to do anything except entertain. Ultimately, I think, audiences still primarily go to the theatre in order to be entertained, to get lost in a moment, and to be utterly drawn into it. BULL relies upon this effect: the audience has to be drawn into the moment to enjoy the comedy of the play – because if they stop to think about what it is they’re laughing at (somebody’s life being ripped apart) they’d stop laughing very quickly. The best theatre, though, certainly goes beyond simple entertainment. It makes you think, forces you to stay involved in the play beyond the dropping of the curtain. This also is what Bull does: after a certain point it asks the audience to question why they are laughing along with the play, and in doing so raises some pretty uncomfortable questions about themselves.

Why should people come and see BULL?

Firstly, to be entertained; after that, to test themselves. BULL is one of the best scripts I’ve ever worked with. It’s muscular, taut and superbly well written. There really isn’t a line out of place – and almost every other one is fundamentally hilarious. The cast, as I’ve said, are stupidly talented, and we’ve created something which I think is really worth seeing. If audience members give themselves up to the play, and can relax into it, they’ll find it a really challenging and rewarding experience.

 

BULL opens runs from Wednesday 8th June until Saturday 11th at the ADC, at 11pm.