Office politics take a dramatic turn at the Abbey Theatre Studio next week, with their production of Bull, a powerful play about workplace bullying, written by Mike Bartlett.
Three colleagues, Thomas, Isobel and Tony, gather together before an important meeting with their manager, Carter. The company is downsizing, and one of the three is about to lose their job. It soon becomes apparent that Isobel and Tony have decided Thomas will be the sacrificial lamb, as they begin a barrage of insults, innuendo and uninvited physical contact, aimed at undermining and overwhelming him.
They do this with the precision of a matador taunting a bull. Unfortunately poor Thomas, who suffers from anxiety and low self-esteem, has none of The Bull’s power or dignity, while Isobel and Tony offer him none of the respect a matador generally affords The Bull.
The action takes place in the round, with a simple scaffolding “ring”. Over a period of just under an hour (there is no interval) the audience will be engrossed, shocked, enthralled and angered by what takes place. Director Rosemary Goodman says the play has echoes of BBC 1’s The Apprentice, that sanctions the screening of workplace bullying as entertainment, and encourages us to become voyeurs of individuals’ suffering.
“It’s obvious that the three colleagues do not work as a team, and that one of them will not survive the cull. The audience waits for their boss to arrive and put a stop to the cruelty. Meanwhile they witness the systematic and relentless bullying of Thomas, who is slowly weakened by their constant jibes, sarcasm and critical personal comments. Thomas’s fate lies with the boss, who will surely see through the manipulative games being played? Or is it simply survival of the fittest?”
Working with such an emotive text has certainly affected Rosemary and the cast in their daily lives. Naomi Jamboretz, who plays the vicious Isobel, notes that “Outside of rehearsal, I have found that bullying is at the forefront of my mind, and have noticed that it is ever present. Occasionally I see behaviour by adults which we would never tolerate in our children.”
“As for Isobel, one rarely gets to play such a monster. Indeed, during rehearsals there have been times when I just couldn’t contine the verbal abuse towards Thomas, played by Simon Dean, because his expressions were so painful to watch.”
Luckily, Rosemary insisted on plenty of breaks to counter the tension and allow the actors to relax and chat normally. Mark Waghorn, who plays the boss, Carter, has found this “time out” invaluable, as the action is very intense. “Particularly for Simon, who plays “The Bull”, as he is constantly on the receiving end. A Cup of tea and a slice of cake do wonders in calming the nerves!”
Performances take place in the Abbey Theatre Studio on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st January at 8pm; Sunday 22nd January at 2.30pm; and Tuesday 24th to Saturday 28th January at 8pm. To book tickets go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 01727 857861.