Lizzimore can take Bull by the horns

Clare Lizzimore, director, in rehearsals for Bull at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield
Clare Lizzimore, director, in rehearsals for Bull at the Crucible Studio, Sheffield
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A LOVE story lies at the heart of the hard-hitting play Bull, which currently has its world premiere at the Crucible Studio.

Clare Lizzimore, who is directing the play, is married to the writer Mike Bartlett, who is making a name for himself as one of the hottest new writers for the London stage.

Clearly it could be tricky bringing your partner’s words to life but Clare said each already had a mutual respect for the other’s work before they met and got together.

Two of her cast members on Bull, Sam Troughton and Adam James, said that the atmosphere during rehearsals when Mike was involved had been very professional. If you didn’t know they were married, you wouldn’t be able to tell they were in a relationship, they each said.

“He’s a fantastic collaborator, really good to work with,” Clare said. “We said we weren’t going to work together because our relationship was the most important thing. Then he wrote Bull and I said I’m risking it, I’m fighting for this one.”

She added: “We’ve got quite a good basis for understanding each other’s work and how we might work together. In the rehearsal room the work comes first. It’s all about the work.

“He’s one of the nicest collaborators I’ve ever worked with. I think he’s a very clever, clever writer.”

Bull is a play about bullying in an office and pretty tough to watch as three members of the same team battle to keep their jobs as the boss prepares to get rid of one of them. The atmosphere of tension is heightened because the first two rows of the audience are standing right next to the action.

Clare said: “If you’re bullied as an adult it’s very difficult to come out and say. How do you prove it and how do you name it? The word sounds childish. It makes you almost victimised to even say it.”

She said that the bullying was presented like a very theatrical event: “It’s a play about bullying that uses the form underlying it of a bull fight. When we went to see a bull fight the whole experience is engineered. It’s a live event that happens in front of you where you know the narrative that the bull will die. That’s the form Mike’s used. It’s clear who the matadors are and who is the bull.”

Clare said that the play would be both entertaining and dark at the same time. At one point the character Isobel says she believes bullying is a vital process going back to ancient times: “Almost in order for the tribe to survive you need to weed out the weaker members of the tribe.”

Clare added: “It’s quite dark stuff and that’s what makes the play quite special.”

Isobel is also the butt of some sexism and Clare said that it was interesting to look at what is a joke and where you draw the line between humour and insult.

She said that issues of leadership are also key to the play, especially at a time when jobs are scarce. The play asks how far people will go when jobs are scarce to protect their livelihood – “people need to feed their children,” she said.

Bull is at the Crucible Studio until February 23.