Bull

Arbery Productions
The Space on Niddry Street – until August 24th
2 Stars (2 / 5)

Bull is a Mike Bartlett Masterpiece. A psychological drama about subtle bullying in the workplace. Tony and Isobel mercilessly taunt and tease Thomas, undermining his self-esteem and even his sanity.

Sadly Arbery’s production does not deliver the full flare of the text. Thomas is delivered as suitably weak and vulnerable – easily provoked to reaction, but his assailants seem to miss the mark. Bull is a very subtly written piece. That is its true mastery. The power of the script hinges on the fact that Tony and Isobel are covert in their torture of Thomas. They gaslight him and get him to doubt whether they are really being cruel or whether he is, indeed, “taking things to seriously” and that it’s all in his imagination. They hide behind the old “it’s only a joke mate”. It’s not that these are bad actors – they create consistent characters – it’s just that they are both so overtly hostile in their delivery that there can be no mistaking what is going on. This undermines the intelligence of the text by arresting precisely the point that the play intends to illustrate.

The cruellest thing is not the cruelty itself, but how it somehow leaves you feeling as though it’s your own fault.