Review: Bull (Young Vic) JohnnyFox February 5, 2015 Reviews, Theatre The first thing I thought seeing Sam Troughton come on stage, was ‘that’s not a very good suit, why can’t theatre companies ever do good suits?’ and if you’ve seen Bull you’ll know that makes me complicit in the bullying and demeaning of Troughton’s character which is the pivot and thrust of the whole exciting event. Set in a bull ring (title), boxing ring (set), so who knows – if he’d written it this week the sacrificial victim metaphor might be being burned alive in a cage. The pre-show ‘Eye of the Tiger’ music had the drama students who formed half the Wednesday matinee audience bopping and air-pumping along to it. Part of the fun is seeing how their naive enthusiasm is first seduced and then after nervous laughter shattered by Bartlett’s savagely authentic characters and visceral plotting. For this is all about top-dogging and about hurting people at work in order to save your own skin and job, and Bartlett is the pre-eminent craftsman in the dialogue of velvet-gloved cruelty and inchoate pain. It makes The Apprentice look like the stagily faked kindergarten it really is. And the situation where three determined salespeople are compared and challenged so that only two survive a headcount reduction is played out daily in almost every business with more than a few dozen employees. I haven’t forgotten ‘Black Thursdays’ at Barclays when bin liners were placed on the desks of the unfortunate. I also haven’t forgotten school where the patrician, the well-mannered and the easily confident banded together to inflict untold pain on lesser mortals. Unlike television for which it’s meat and drink, stage doesn’t do ‘business’ very well. Apart from Michael Frayn’s Make and Break, a terrific 1980s piece in which Leonard Rossiter played the workaholic head of a partitions-manufacturing company, it’s hard to recall a successful play so closely focused on alpha male office relationships. Even Ayckbourn’s A Small Family Business unfolds only in the house of the owner. I hope Bartlett grows a full-length drama from these characters, they’re hateful but their backstories must also be fascinating. I wanted to punch Eleanor Matsuura who turns every remark into a perceived slight she can use as a weapon, but only because she was so realistic. Troughton is superlatively good as the only-slightly-under-par colleague whose perceived weaknesses are inflated and abused by his sharper-suited team mates, and Adam James, building on his first rate Blairish Prime Minister in Bartlett’s King Charles III, is immaculate as the smooth-tongued false friend who ultimately engineers Troughton’s downfall. No one else can infuse such deadly intent into the word ‘mate’. Can’t wait to see him play Iago.