Review: BULL

KH 9 June 2016

Mike Bartlett’s BULL is a headbutt. Even if you are tired and unsure if you will be able to concentrate on a play at 11 in the night, prepare your eyes to be smacked wide open by this awfully hilarious play about the complete and utter destruction of a defenceless human being.

We find ourselves in the spirit-killing atmosphere of a neon-lit office room where three employees, Thomas, Isobel and Tony, are awaiting their boss, knowing that one of them will be fired. What initially could be taken as the beginning of a story about competition and rivalry amongst equals quickly turns into a story about the orchestrated demolition of one at the hands of the others – into a bull fight. Isobel and Tony have decided that it will not be them who are going to be fired and to chase and destroy the weakest member of the group, Thomas.

The now unfolding story keeps you in its merciless grip until the very end. Isobel and Tony keep kicking Thomas around like a bag of old clothes, allowing him (or us, for that matter) not a single break. Thanks to the superb acting you can’t decide whom of the duo you want to despise more – the ice-cold, insidious Isobel, incorporated by Megan Gilbert, or the awfully sleek, merciless Tony, played by Louis Norris.

Adam Mirsky perfectly incorporates the easy target that nobody wants to see – the huffy, clumsy, sweaty Thomas, who, due to his excruciating nervousness, appears to be unable to realise what is going on around him and ends up falling into each and every trap Isobel and Tony have set up for him. All three actors are meticulous, and work brilliantly together to create the excruciating experience.

The biggest moment of the play, the (to stick to the bull fighting metaphor) “Suerte de matar”, the act of killing the bull,  is reserved for Isobel. Megan, dropping her icy facade as Isobel and revealing that there has been much more than just calculation and competitiveness that drove her to torment Thomas, that all along she was driven by an awkwardly obsessive hatred and even blood lust, surely seizes it, making it both the most painful and most compelling moment to watch.

However, to the extent that the play applies the logic of a bull fight to a drama, it also suffers from the same weakness: there is relatively little room for surprise, from the beginning the dynamics do not change and the outcome seems entirely clear.

You feel like you have got the point relatively early on in the play and the constant battering, despite being witty and funny, becomes slightly dull, the only question being not if, but only when, Thomas is going to break. As such, the play makes you realise what Woody Allen’s Lester might mean with his mantra “if it bends it’s funny, if it breaks it’s not.”