Aug 20 2019 | By More

★★★★☆  Vicious

theSpace@ Niddry St (Venue 9): Mon 12– Sat 24 Aug 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

Arbery Productions manage to find the dark heart of Mike Bartlett’s Bull at theSpace @ Niddry Street, in a production of skill and pace.

The depiction of a meeting to discuss headcount in the sales department of an unnamed company is a relentless evocation of workplace bullying. The situation is not so much dog-eat-dog as ‘all the other dogs gang up on another one even though they aren’t actually hungry’.

Jamie Stewart, Nayia Anastasiadou and Jake McGarry. Pic Arbery Productions

There is an energy to the interactions between the three central characters right from the off. Alpha male Tony is all supercilious charm and entitlement, and Jamie Stewart’s dangerously plausible, perfectly pitched performance makes the character instantly believable.

Nayia Anastasiadou’s Isobel is positively reptilian in her calculation and self-justification. Jake McGarry’s put-upon Thomas has a convincingly defeated air. The dynamic between the three of them is so well done that you instantly believe the backstory – that months of chipping away at Thomas have had him playing exactly the role the other two want, in preparation for a moment such as this.

There is rhythm and fluidity to the direction of Adam Tomkins that is decidedly impressive. A potentially difficult thrust stage is negotiated with ease, with props and furniture kept to a minimum.

The opening half-hour has such an impact that it it would be difficult to sustain, and it is true that there is a slight falling-off in tension. Alan Patterson’s boss Mr Carter is a wonderfully judged performance in itself – the heartily superficial rugby-club type that undoubtedly infests Scottish public discourse – but he seems to have come from another play.


Aside from a couple of the accents, there is no hint that the play has been relocated to Scotland – indeed, a geographical reference suggests it is in the South of England. And the bluff cheeriness of Carter set up here indicates someone who would be vindictive while pretending he wasn’t, which is slightly at odds with the character as written.

There is also a slackening of tension in the later exchanges between Isobel and Thomas. This is not down to weaknesses in either performance or direction; rather it is testimony to how effective the central trio were earlier on, that the stage seems emptier without one of them.

Nevertheless, there is a notable success here in teasing out the play’s evocations of the darker side of human impulse.

Indeed, there are even hints of wider political ramifications. Not only is it implied that this is always the way that capitalism works, there are parallels between Isobel’s citing of evolutionary impulses to justify getting what she wants, and the way Darwin was perverted by right-wing movements in an attempt to justify racism.

Either way, it is an intriguing if decidedly uncomfortable piece, done great justice by Arbery.

Running time 50 minutes (no interval)
theSpace @ Niddry St Niddry St, EH1 1TH (Venue 9)
Monday 12–Saturday 24August 2019
Daily (not Sun) at 5.20 pm
Tickets and details: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bull-1

Website: http://arberyproductions.co.uk/plays/Bull.htm
Facebook: @ArberyProductions
Twitter: @ArberyProdctns


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