5 Stars for Bull / Party!

The review is in for our double bill of Mike Bartlett's Bull and Tom Basden's Party

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Date published: 29th Apr 2016

Two new plays, both excellent of their kind, given polished productions by Theatre at Baddow this week.

Mike Bartlett's Bull is a relentless hour of bullying and paranoia. Office politics in a corridor with a water-cooler. Pinterish in its unpleasantness, it's an uneasy listen. You long for a twist, a turning point. Worm, tables, whatever. Never comes. Roger Saddington's Thomas just sits and weeps under the final acid onslaught from Ruth Westbrook's icy Isobel.
There's much talk of truth and falsehood. The harassment, the torment, the naked nastiness recall the worst excesses of the playground ? several times referenced in the script - ?we're not at school?.
It's Thomas's worst nightmare ? losing his job, access to his son Harry ? and maybe this is the key to the piece. We all want to hit Isobel ? Thomas tries repeatedly, but, as in a dream, his fist never connects. He knocks himself out in the end. Isobel finds no sympathy, leaves the teetotal loser his single malt leaving gift. ?When you wake up, a drink may be just what you need ...?
Four superb performances in Jim Crozier's confident production ? the pauses, the looks, all spot on.
Saddington is a sympathetic underdog, maybe too much so ? should we perhaps suspect that he ?brings it on himself? ? Terry Cramphorn is a smug, unfeeling CEO. And Patrick Willis is outstanding as Team Leader Tony, a master of merciless banter, glued to his smartphone, casually sticking the knife in, rocking in his chair.
Bull. Bullshit, Bullying, and the Bullfight, with its carefully choreographed, pitiless picadors.
Followed here not by Bartlett's Cock, for which it was originally the companion piece, but by a much jollier affair - Tom Basden's Party.
More childish banter here, but much more amusing, while still keeping a satirical eye on matters social and political. Lots of argy-bargy over language. Joanna Lowe directs a well-cast company: five clueless twenty-somethings meet in Jared's mum's shed to thrash out policies for their new anti-capitalist party. Jared ? a lovely, earnest performance from Kieran Low ? takes charge, Naneen Lane's dim Phoebe takes the minutes. Nathan, in sandals and cycle-clips, the only one in employment, is played with precisely the right keen bewilderment by Nathan Lowe, and Vicky Wright is excellent as the sulky Mel. Roger Saddington ? the only actor allowed to do both shows ? is Jones, roused to fury by lack of coffee. David Saddington pops in briefly as the mysterious Short Coat.
It's like a long comedy sketch, really, but consistently funny, even if these characters are no more believable as adults than the awful suits in Bull.
Reviewer Michael Gray - Chelmsford Weekly News