Marc Wootton

Evening Standard - Bull, theatre review: Brutal look at a cut-throat world

16th December 2015

* * * *

If we were looking for a writer of the year, it would be hard to argue against Mike Bartlett, winner of two Olivier Awards, for King Charles III and this play in its earlier run at the Young Vic, as well as the compelling if improbable BBC drama Doctor Foster. 

Bull is easily the least showy of these three works, but it’s by far the hardest hitting. It is, in fact, brutal, pummelling viewing.

There’s a reason why the action takes place in a boxing ring, with audience members raked on all four sides. Bartlett offers an unflinching look at corporate culture in the era of downsizing, as three employees compete for two jobs. Tony (Max Bennett) and Isobel (the always excellent Susannah Fielding), sleek alpha male and female, have no doubt they will be the victors; they have long made the working life of colleague Thomas (Marc Wootton) a living hell. 

Yet Bartlett isn’t on the side of the avenging angels when it comes to office bullies: the inescapable truth is that Thomas is his own worst enemy.

Wootton, harried and sweating, conveys with uncomfortable precision how Thomas manages to misjudge every single interaction by one small turn of the dial: there’s the voice too loud, the gesture over-emphatic. Clare Lizzimore’s production is unrelenting in its evisceration of this hapless individual and forces us to examine our own collusion in such a culture. We don’t think that Thomas’s ill-fitting jacket signifies anything profound. Do we?