Brutal. Just, so, brutal.
Philippe Klaus Romy Bartz and George Kemp in Bull; Photo by Geoff Sirmai.
Awaiting a crucial staffing decision by senior management, team members Isobel (Romy Bartz) and Tony (Philippe Klaus) round squarely on less confident and clearly nerve-wracked Thomas (George Kemp) to ensure survival in an unforgiving corporate office.
Escalating from mere taunting to the dreadfully discomforting and obscene, it’s a devastating trainwreck you can’t take your eyes off. With a short run-time of 50 minutes, the entire play maintains its tension as the now grown-up schoolyard bullies land blow after blow in an instantly recognisable high-stress business environment where the flailing Thomas cannot match the honed manipulative skills of his colleagues.
Klaus as Tony is the most charmingly manipulative and disarming. Initially light on derision, Klaus gradually elevates his taunting to the frequently macabre, tragic luridity that is the hallmark and easily most memorable feature of this play. Bartz’s performance is considerably darker and often hurriedly delivered, maintaining the play’s sorrowful tinge but allowing little space throughout her key sequences for any humorous reprieve.
The entry of their boss (Craig Ashley) later in the play, while necessary, is nevertheless the weakest part of the show, with their corporate leader a clearly one-dimensional caricature of a seasoned man in charge. His oft-used witticisms and esteemed wisdom are both largely familiar and no match for the more complex trilogy of central characters, effectively established despite the play’s short running time.
Mostly consisting of very fast-paced dialogue, the relentlessness of the verbal attacks were alleviated, sparingly, by two key scenes involving actual physical interaction between the characters. Rather than depicting the protagonists as purely a bunch of suits and talking heads these few moments, unfortunately lacking in number, provided the type of interaction which elevated the play as an involving dramatic piece beyond a simple collection of brutalist and riveting assaults on the team’s weakest member.
Shocking and consistently engrossing, Mike Bartlett’s Bull is instantly relatable to almost anyone and thankfully observed from the comfort of the theatre.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
By Mike Bartlett
Director Rowan Greaves
Starring Romy Bartz, Philippe Klaus, George Kemp, Craig Ashley
Old Fitz Theatre
Sept 1-12 Tue to Sat