Bull, Young Vic, theatre review: 'Short and shocking'

Mike Bartlett's play about office politics and bullying turns into a sickening ritual of slaughter

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The audience are packed round a kind of corporate boxing ring, replete with water cooler, for Mike Bartlett's short, shocking play about office politics and bullying.

Smooth-talking alpha male Tony (Adam James) and Eleanor Matsuura's enameled, conscienceless Isobel gang up on a third to ensure that he is selected by the head honcho (Neil Stuke) for redundancy.  It's a process familiar from The Apprentice but here the bitchy mind games which begin jokily enough (“Did you wear that deliberately?”) become so systematically sadistic and emasculating that the piece turns into a sickening ritual of slaughter. 

Clare Lizzimore's high-precision production is splendidly acted, especially by Sam Troughton as Thomas who exudes the panicky defensiveness of the born loser, makes things worse for himself by always rising to the bait, and ends up a desperately flailing wreck.   

The piece presents downsizing in terms of social Darwinism, red in tooth and claw— the compulsion to bring down Thomas spoken of an “evolved thing”, a winner's instinct for excluding the unfit.  But if we are meant to feel complicit enjoyment, initially, in the tormenting of this unattractive man and then ashamed of ourselves, I can only say that, from the outset, I watched the behaviour of the victimisers with unadulterated loathing.