Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Bull & Contact.com

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Bull & Contact.com

Article excerpt

Bull

Young Vic, until 14 February

Contact.com

Park Theatre, until 14 February

A knockout show at the Young Vic. Literally. The stage has been reconfigured as a boxing ring to make Mike Bartlett's play, Bull , feel like a sporting fixture. This is a common conceit, even a cliché, but here it's done superbly. The auditorium floor is squash-club yellow and the stage is surrounded by a casual standing area that creates the ragged informal atmosphere of a training arena. Excellent stuff.

The play is a wordy, tricky, shifty, nasty, faithless thing. The characters lie about their backgrounds so it's hard to know who, or what, to latch on to. More problematically the plot is infertile. Nothing grows or develops. At curtain-fall the position is the same as at curtain-rise. We're in a workplace. Three gits in suits humiliate and ridicule the office loser, who flips out and barges around the stage a bit before punching the water cooler in the face. The end. The question with any drama is, who do we like? Well, the three gits are vicious brain-dead dung-bags while their quarry is a spineless woman-hater who lacks the wit or spirit to retaliate. What a charming show. It's lifted wholesale from Pinter but without the humour, the offbeat lyricism and the exhilarating switches of tone.

After 20 minutes of poisonous witter, one of the bullies floats the idea of a tribunal. 'If you win, and stay, I'll make your life a nightmare.' Deniable in court? Sure. But these are daily attacks so the victim has ample opportunity to conceal a mike, nail the nasties and collect a fortune. He's sitting on a gold mine. And his persecutors are risking dismissal, public execration and long-term unemployment. Simple facts. That the author ignores them doesn't just invalidate the play but transports it from the realm of misanthropic drivel into the dimension of fantasy. It's like hearing a stud-fetishist relating last night's S&M wet dream. As the toxic dialogue flowed ceaselessly onward, I began to fear I might pass out with fatigue when -- clump! -- someone did it for me. A pretty blonde in the standing area crashed to the floor and lay there, elegantly sprawled, like a Burne-Jones model. The staff revived her with sips of water and shoulder strokes. She then took the immensely brave decision to sit, or crouch rather, through the remnant of this anaesthetic presentation.

Hats off to the Young Vic for experimentalism. They're staging plays that bore viewers into catalepsy. As the actors took their bows they failed to acknowledge the ennui overdose their artistry had just inspired. …

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