Friday, 9 January 2015

Preview - Bull at the Young Vic starring Neil Stuke

ACTOR, panellist, restaurant reviewer, ambassador for charity Prostate Cancer UK, farm shop owner, campaigner and champion of the high street, Neil Stuke is a man of many parts.
The 47-year-old is perhaps best known for his acting and seems to have been rarely out of work since he started out more than 20 years ago.
He's been a regular on stage appearing in plays such as Rookery Nook at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Season's Greetings at the National, Boeing-Boeing at the Comedy Theatre and has just finished Frankie & Johnny In The Clare De Lune at the Chichester Festival Theatre.
He's a familiar face on screen too, most recently as Billy Lamb, the senior clerk of the Shoe Lane barristers' chambers in the BBC TV legal drama Silk, as well as in Reggie Perrin, New Tricks and in the film Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow.
Although acting may be his bread and butter he is also a partner in Franklins Farm Shop in Lordship Lane, Dulwich, a venture he's been part of for the past five years.
He is also a vocal and vociferous campaigner - indeed anyone who follows him on social media site Twitter will know about his passion and support for the protection and preservation of the country's pubs and high streets, not to mention his dislike of the supermarkets, one in particular.
However, his current focus is his role in Bull, a play he describes as a "brutal and viscous comedy" of cruel one-upmanship which is due to open at the Young Vic next week.
Written by Mike Bartlett, it's about three desperate office workers who are vying for two jobs in the cut throat world in which they operate.
The 55-minute piece comes to the Waterloo theatre after it was premièred in Sheffield last year where it won the UK Theatre Award for Best New Play.
The production then transferred to 59E59, New York, where it was performed as part of the Brits Off-Broadway season starring the London company.
It marks a welcome return to the Young Vic for Neil who was last here in American Buffalo in 1996.
"It's an absolutely brilliant play and the writing is fantastic," enthuses Neil as we chat while he takes a brief break from rehearsals.
"It's about bullying within an office environment and is based on a bull fight - it's a pugilistic metaphor - it's gritty, fast, furious and very, very funny."
Neil plays Carter, the boss who think he's "right all the time".
"The characters are really horrible and mine is no exception," he says. "He's not got many redeeming features but he's funny and gets a lot of laughs but that's the beauty of the writing.
"These people are bullies though and give up everything for their work. They have a kind of killer mentality. It's all about money and power for them.
"All the characters are slightly heightened, slightly larger than life. They are probably working in high level banking or another similar business where people are working in difficult and highly pressurised conditions.
"If one person is deemed as not performing as well as another or is seen as weaker than another they get rid of them.
"It's unpleasant in that sense but it's an incredibly interesting piece - it's high octane, the text is very funny and audiences find themselves laughing at the most inopportune moments - at things that are so awful - it's brilliant."
The piece will be performed by the four actors in a square boxing ring which the audience can either stand next to, to boo or cheer on the characters and be closer to the action, or can sit surrounding it.
I ask Neil if having the audience so close is a bit unnerving.
"It will be interesting!" he says cheerfully. "But I'm one of those actors that thinks scary is quite good. Being scared is a good thing otherwise you get fat and lazy.
"When I took over from Mark Rylance in Boeing-Boeing, that was scary - they had to shove me on stage with a broomstick! It was terrifying!"
Despite this, he clearly loves his work and the variety of it. He had a particular fondness for the TV drama Silk, and admits he was disappointed when writer Peter Moffat decided to call time on the series.
"I was sad when it ended," he says. "Millions of people were sad about it. It was a very well written and successful programme and I think it could have gone on - they could have done more so it was a shame it finished."
However, Neil's fans will be able to see him back on the box in the forthcoming drama series The Interceptors, and he will return to the West End in Frankie & Johnny in the spring.
In the meantime he will continue his other great passion - campaigning against a certain supermarket.
"It's important to concentrate on just one," he says. "I hate supermarkets in general but out of all of them there is one which is the most despicable and loathsome - particularly in the nasty way it gobbles up the high streets and buys up pubs which are then turned into yet another of its stores. It's hideous."
But he says it's not just about being anti supermarket.
"My focus is really about supporting local shops and high streets," he says. "Why would Britain want to be like an American mid western town where people get into their cars that burn fossil fuels and go to an aircraft hanger of doom to do their shopping?
"Why do we want to become like that? We have such lovely towns, villages and pubs and we are ruining them - why have we done this to our country?
"People love supermarkets but their produce is appalling and most of the packaging is unrecyclable. That's why it's hideous and depressing.
"Lordship Lane where we have Franklins is great though. It is a lovely and unique area but it's hard and a constant battle.
"People complain but they don't do anything about it - that's why we need to take a stand."

Bull is on at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo from Thursday, January 8 until Saturday, February 7. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

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