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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Theatre review: Bull only manages a TKO

Workplace drama takes the idea there are no friends in business to an extreme

There is an anticipation that builds in Mike Bartlett’s Bull. Like even the best episode of The Apprentice though, it never really amounts to anything.

Called into the boardroom, three employees go in knowing one of them isn’t going to survive. Two have already pledged their allegiance, with a common goal of knocking out the third. Over the next 55 minutes, the duo tag team their way into ensuring they remain victorious.

If it all sounds like a boxing match, much like his superior Cock, Bartlett uses the metaphor to help tell his story. Director Aaron Craven reinforces this idea by placing the audience on four sides, with Sean Tyson’s lighting design acting as the ropes.  As the three employees take mental jabs at each other, we are witness to the psychological wounds that land with as much bloody force as if a punch to the face. It is relentless.

It also gets repetitive. As the dynamic between the three employees never varies, there is no growth and certainly nothing surprising (despite the anticipation). Even the introduction of the boss changes nothing, and the outcome is as inevitable as the words “you’re fired”, or more recently, “you’re terminated”. As a result, it becomes all but impossible to view Bull through a satirical lens.

There are some nice performances here though, and under Craven’s direction the quartet easily handles Bartlett’s rapid-fire dialogue with ease.

Especially noteworthy are the two alpha employees played by Kate Isaac and Paul Barton. The two are steadfast in reinforcing the old, and largely outdated, adage that there are no friends in business.

As the duo’s victim, Ryan Hesp never quite elicits our sympathies, but then it isn’t entirely clear that is what playwright intends. As the trio’s boss John Prowse is effective although his phrasing on opening night seemed a bit off.

To bring its boxing metaphor full circle, Bull only manages a TKO. I was hoping for a full-on knockout.

Bull by Mike Bartlett. Directed by Aaron Craven. A Made it Ma! Productions presentation. On stage at Studio 1398 (1398 Cartwright Street, Granville Island) until January 29. Visit for tickets and information.

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