Bull (Young Vic)

Mike Bartlett’s award-winning play is revived by Clare Lizzimore at the Young Vic

What a week in the business world. Wednesday's Apprentice interviews followed on Thursday by more Bull. Comparisons between the two entertainments are less facile than you’d think: both are essentially fiction, cartoon cut-outs of a cut-throat world, but neither is so divorced from real life that we dissociate from it. We watch the ghastly behaviour of modern professionals through appalled fingers.

The Young Vic has quickly revived Mike Bartlett‘s hour of power-hungry young executives locked in a battle for survival. Three of them prepare to be re-interviewed in a downsizing exercise where one will be fired – or, as Lord Sugar would say, leave the process – but first they must endure the anteroom, which is where we come in. Designer Soutra Gilmour sets Bull in a symbolic chrome-edged combat ring (more gladiatorial than boxing, I’d say, although the entrance music has Don King written all over it: "Eye of the Tiger", "We Will Rock You"…) that’s the ideal arena for a celebration of workplace bullying where dog doesn’t so much eat dog as attack, trample and dismember him.

Director Clare Lizzimore has recreated her original production and it's tight, taut and stings like a razor blade. Her new cast, too, is bang on the money that so bewitches its central trio. Marc Wootton‘s uber victim Thomas is a sad soul, rumpled, sweaty, vulnerable and ripe for Susannah Fielding‘s stiletto-sharp Isobel and Max Bennett‘s playfully lethal Tony to break with their mind games.

Alas, for most of its duration mental cruelty is pretty much all we get in a play that starts on one note and stays there. Characters are fixed from the get-go; there’s no narrative arc to speak of. Only when Nigel Lindsay‘s boss-man Carter appears does the plot make any sort of leap, after which the coda plays out with an air of dramatic pointlessness beyond the need to ratchet things up to a big finish. Everyone loves a bear garden and the Young Vic can rarely have known so many whoops and gasps.

Bull, then, is an hour of manufactured anger against an easy target, the ruthless young go-getter. The tormentors’ actions are hyper-real and transcend credibility – intentionally so by the end, as it tips over into parable – but there’s no denying Bartlett’s ability to engage his audience – and he can claim with some justification that his play is no more cynical than the world it depicts.

Bull runs at the Young Vic until 16 January.