EARLY in rehearsals for Bull, the play premiering at the Crucible Studio about the dog-eat-dog world of office politics, director Clare Lizzimore decided one day to play Alan Sugar with her cast.
“I told them I wanted them to go out and do market research but to remember that one of them would end up being fired,” she laughs. “The specific question was what does it take to be a good employee and they had to come back within an hour with some answers.”
The exercise was to give the actors an insight into office dynamics. “You are looking at the rituals and the protocols and ethics of a working environment that isn’t our own and as artists and directors and actors we have a slightly different way of working, obviously,” she says. ”We don’t have the same codes or office infrastructure so I sent our actors out on an almost Apprentice assignment.”
No one was fired, of course. But in Mike Bartlett’s play one of three employees is destined for redundancy and two of them gang up on the other to try and force him out. It is a simple case of bullying. “We associate bullying with school playgrounds but it is so endemic in the adult world and it can affect anybody,” says the director, “but it’s interesting that in a credit crunch when jobs are scarce how far one will go to bring someone down.
“And it’s even a bit darker than that, this premise that there is something instinctual about bullying and maybe we have something deep inside us to bring down the weaker members of the tribe as part of a survival of the fittest mentality.”
Being bullied can happen to anyone for no particular reason, she says, but it is hard for an adult to confess to others for fear of being accused of exaggerating or looking childish. “It is an analysis of just how tough the world is and the armour you have to have just to survive day to day.
“But the thing is, if we do our jobs right, it should be incredibly funny. And full of joy. Bullies can unfortunately be quite charming and the good ones don’t get caught because it is all under the guise of friendship. They are chameleon-like and the play shows just how much we find these people charming and charismatic and funny.”
Though Lizzimore has known Mike Bartlett well for some time – before his name became so widely known after Cock at the Royal Court and adapting Chariots of Fire in the West End – she has not directed a play of his before.
“When I read it I pushed for it and said I am the person for this because I understand bullying, not that you have to have been bullied to direct the play. But it excited me, I thought it was an important play.”
Lizzimore, who previously directed One Day When We Were Young in the Roundabout Season at the Crucible Studio, organized a reading of Bull during the Forge Festival at the theatre last year.
“We did it here as a free event , a reading for the local community and it went down really well and they loved it and were laughing. It was thrilling and from that moment we vowed that this is where we wanted to make the work.”
Bull runs at the Crucible Studio until February 23