Building up tension through music as the theatre audience enter and the lights dim is often a good thing. However, after listening for well over five minutes to four separate tracks of rock music when the house lights have completely dimmed and nothing is happening on stage except the vision of two actors frozen in time does not build tension. The result is confused audience members and continued chit chat. Niggle over.
When the lights come up on stage and the action sharply begins we finally get fifty-five minutes of exemplary acting from the cast of four in Mike Bartlett’s one act play Bull at Nottingham New Theatre. Ollie Shortt in his last directorial role at Nottingham New Theatre plays a blinder in keeping the acting tight and tense in the Olivier Award winning play about bullying in the office. The play has veins of dark humour running through it and it is often the case that one is laughing out loud one moment and wincing at the bullying the next.
This is an ‘in the round’ production with a chequered board floor design (set by Ollie Shortt) and the movement of the cast is cleverly choreographed.
Nick Gill is superb as the bullied, constantly on edge Thomas and really gets the acting honours in the last scene as he takes unsuccessful physical swipes at the bitchy Isobel (Rachael Baines). The scene is akin to a living nightmare where the victim seriously wants to harm the aggressor regardless of her sex but every frustrated blow misses inviting further taunting.
Baines handles her role of Isobel extremely well and through her interpretation of Bartlett’s clever writing she is particularly good at ducking and diving psychologically and sexually in order to manipulate and confuse her victim.
The play’s main bully Tony is the f**king idiot office team leader you just want to kill. Harry Bradley brings out all of Tony’s smug belittling ‘who me?’ attitudes including some finely judged and varied physical flicks and knocks at his victim Thomas. Unfortunately there are Tony’s in a quite a few offices – outwardly confident – brashly dressed and always there with both narrow squinting eyes searching for and creating opportunities to destroy all who threaten their progress. Bradley also excels in demonstrating the play’s cruel humour especially in his sucking up to the sudden arrival of his boss Carter.
Carter is played by a very confident Ben Dillon. His character is surprisingly supportive in the acts of bullying towards his increasingly fraught employee Thomas. Just when you think the poor guy is going to get some much needed sympathy all three of the ‘bulls’ verbally charge at the terrified and confused office ‘matador’. The verbal taunting gets quite intense.
This is one play in which the good guy doesn’t win in the end although it is questionable who in the audience would like to see him do so. This is pure Theatre of Cruelty in a modern form and this sterling production by Nottingham New Theatre starts their new season off with a tremendous bang and a kick and a thump…
Runs until 27 February
Originally written for The Reviews Hub