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Bull and Contractions at The Questors – Judi Dench Playhouse

The Questors’ latest offering is a double-bill of Mike Bartlett plays; Bull & Contractions. The plays appear very timely, with the world returning to “normal”, with offices opening and people trying to balance their work and home commitments.

Bull and Contractions: Credit Jane Arnold-Forster.
Bull and Contractions: Credit Jane Arnold-Forster.

Each play is 55 minutes long, and due to the spectacular writing of Mike Bartlett combined with the energy and pace of the pieces the time went superfast. Both pieces were staged on a thrust stage setting, which can be tricky to navigate, however, Mike Hadjipateras (Director, Contractions) and Stuart Watson (Director, Bull) have managed to stage their productions so that the audience can benefit from differing sightlines without missing out on any action.

Both pieces have very limited props and set. Around the edges of the stage are small red lights that make you think of a boxing ring within which, our plays are performed.

Contractions was first on the agenda.

This is a duologue performed by two very strong female performers, Alison Griffin and Anne Marie Ryan. If I had to label it, I would say it’s a dystopian black mirror-esque look at what could happen if there was no work-life balance and managers were more “computer says no” to your personal out of office choices.

Each scene of the play starts the same, the employee, (Ryan) enters the Manager’s (Griffin) office and takes a seat and prepares to face a number of HR questions about her personal life in and outside of work. As the piece progresses the absurd and cruel twist of fate sees the employee struggling to navigate her life and keep her job. Our laughter is usurped and as an audience, we are shocked, disturbed, angered and I even heard some of my fellow audience members whisper (No, No, No) to the on-stage action.

This is followed by a short intermission before Bull begins.

Based purely on the script, Bull was my favourite piece. It’s a deep dive into workplace bullying, toxic work culture, gaslighting and a ‘how to be a total arse to succeed at work‘ play.

The piece centres on Thomas (Adam Hampton-Matthews), Isobel (Claire Durrant) and Tony (Joshua Perry) whilst they wait for their boss Carter (David Erdos) to make one of them redundant. The action takes place by the water cooler in a sales office. Each performer really steps up to the mark, their delivery is spot on and as an audience, we don’t like any of the characters. Each is a narcissist at the top of their game, using gaslighting and cruel vitriol to “get ahead”. To be honest, it’s strange watching a show where there isn’t an underdog that we cheer for, instead, I find myself hating everyone, feeling glad that I don’t work with people like this.

As the play unfolds we are exposed to mind games and physical games which are hard to watch and harder to digest. Sadly, I’m sure that a lot of workplaces have this element in their workforce, maybe not to this extreme but elements of it.

All in all, it’s a great night out with two well-written, well-performed pieces.

4 stars

Review by Faye Stockley

The Questors Present
Bull & Contractions (Double Bill)
Mike Bartlett
Just when you thought it was safe to return to the office…
A double bill of riveting and gripping one-act dark comedies from the pen of Mike Bartlett (Dr Foster, Charles III), that dissect the powerplays of corporate life to hilarious and horrifying effects.
Bull
Two jobs. Three People. Someone has to go.
This razor-sharp play takes you ringside as three ambitious employees fight it out to keep their jobs, offering an unrelenting look into corporate culture.

When manipulation and mind games are in full force, and the line between office politics and playground bullying blurs, who will survive?

Contractions
Work to live or live to work?

When Emma is called into her manager’s office, she is reminded of one vital company rule: love and work must never collide. But under a watchful eye, compromising one’s personal life for professional survival could be the only option. This searing two-hander bravely exposes the cold-blooded nature of capitalist environments, exploring the thin line between humans and machines.

Running time: 2hrs, including interval
Age guidance: 15+
Content warning: references to sexual violence and death

Bull & Contractions (Double Bill)
13 Oct – 16 Oct 21 | in the Judi Dench Playhouse
http://www.questors.org.uk/

Author

  • Faye Stockley

    Faye read Theatre & Performance at The University of Warwick; she went on to work as a stage manager in London and Edinburgh. She had a year's stint on-board the MV Island Escape as a Social Host and Compere and now works full time as a Recruitment Manager for the broadcast, entertainment and media sectors.

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