Bull + EggsYEP Directors’ Festival @ The Everyman 4/6/21
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The annual YEP Directors’ Festival showcases the work of the Young Everyman and Playhouse’s emerging directors’ programme. As theatres began to welcome back audiences, our writers took in two of the productions.
It’s a sell-out show of minimal people tonight – every table is occupied with huddled pairs leaning over cups and tealights. On the tables are programmes for half a dozen plays over the next fortnight. You’re reminded you’re actually seeing something in the flesh again as you see people’s heads twitch and hair shake when they laugh. Theatre is back.
There’s a projection of a matador dipping and flickering in a moving picture show, all black and white with static audio. Then the music cuts dead and there’s a brash light over an office scene. The stage is very much our red rag.
Bull was written by Mike Bartlett in the early 2010s – winning Best New Play at the UK Theatre Awards in October 2013 – and hasn’t aged in nearly 10 years, especially in the hands of tonight’s director, Olive Pascha. It’s been 15 months without indoor theatre, but worth the wait. This is a production that requires a live enactment; it’s claustrophobic, awkward and sour in a way that couldn’t be translated to video. There’s ratty management and sneaks orchestrating the moment to suit themselves. To the audience, it reads as a sort of bearbaiting of the protagonist, Thomas, as he’s twisted into a raging grass.
The schoolyard was never a place, it was a conglomerate of snarky individuals, and according to this they’ve all compressed themselves into one conference room somewhere in Merseyside. They confuse people for the hell of it, then rub their nose in the aftermath, and it’s that universal superior suck-up vantage point that makes every character, bar Thomas, bitter and gleeful at the same time.
The parallel metaphors of secondary school bullying (recreated accurately in laboured swearing and insults) and the more classical bullring comparison are screwed together satisfyingly, revealing the savage backstabbing of the corporate world with a strange repertoire of black humour and goading. Never was there more snark, snidery, snitching, shoe-licking, shit-stirring, feigned ignorance and competition condensed into 50 minutes of snot-nosed adults nettling each other for millimetres of the upper-hand. It’s pathetic in the best way possible.
The titular theme of Eggs is subtly mentioned throughout this comedy about female friendships and fertility. Fertility, along with an easter egg and even a sex toy, are all referenced. Florence Keith-Roach’s play is a Fleabag-esque production that follows the lives of two young women navigating life, friendships and societal expectations.
Director Mary Savage handles the writer’s approach to the subject of sex confidently as both characters are shown to openly talk about their relationships and sexual history. The rocky relationship between the characters delves into the ways women are pulled in various directions due to societal expectations, but are able to withstand this, as the importance of female friendship is shown to be paramount. Character A seemingly has her life together, with a steady relationship, office job and a potential baby on the way. Character B goes down an unconventional route and questions the plan society has set out for her, as she feels unfulfilled by her dog-walking job and wishes to find more meaning in life. Her monologues about life, consciousness and fulfilment immerse the audience in a captivating stream of consciousness. Not only do these women feel a career pressure and an expectation to have the time of their lives in their 20s – the ticking time bomb of motherhood also hangs over them.
Savage evidently does not think in binaries as there is no defined hero or villain. Neither character is perfect, nor does Savage try to shame either for the paths they choose to take. Rather, both characters are portrayed as flawed individuals that have work to do on themselves, their relationships and outlooks in life. Coming away from this production, the audience is reassured with a sense of comfort as we see ourselves in these characters.
The relatability of the characters and familiarity of locations such as Ormskirk and Edge Hill create a sense of belief, not only in the cast but the director, too. The audience understands Savage’s implied message. Society is complex, but so are we.
Poppy and Hannah took part in Bido Lito!’s Bylines writers programme, developing young culture writers of the future. Bylines runs throughout the year for more information and to find out about the next intake go to bidolito.co.uk/workshops