Bartlett’s latest offering takes Bull by the horns

Adam James as Tony, Eleanor Matsuura as Isobel and Sam Troughton as Thomas  in Bull by Mike Bartlett, Crucible Studio, Feb 6-23 2013
Adam James as Tony, Eleanor Matsuura as Isobel and Sam Troughton as Thomas in Bull by Mike Bartlett, Crucible Studio, Feb 6-23 2013

ARGUABLY the play which first got Mike Bartlett – now established as one of Britain hottest young playwrights – noticed was called Cock. Since Bull is the title of the work being premiered at the Crucible Studio it would be reasonable to assume it is a companion piece.

That was his original intention, says the writer, but it didn’t work out that way. ”The two plays had the same starting point but ended up in different places,” he says.

That was seeing a bullfight in Mexico. “Rather than going into a stadium to see a sports event this was a blood ritual, a very different thing. It’s not a game, we all know what’s going to happen and we have come to witness this ritual of a guy killing this animal.

“It was a very interesting idea for a play and I started to write Cock (about a gay man who falls for a woman during a break from his boyfriend) which was based on a cock fight and after that was up and running I started writing Bull but then I stopped.

“I took some time away from it and when I came back to write it I saw that this play could be what it has turned out to be,” he explains.

“It isn’t something that is referenced to another play in the same way that a cockfight is very different from a bullfight.” Bull is set in an office where one out of three members of a particular team is destined for redundancy. Two of them gang up on the third to bring him down.

Had the recession hit the world when Bartlett came up with the idea? “It had just happened when I started writing it and then I wrote it again and things had moved on but it certainly played a part in my writing it, knowing what those consequences were and now knowing what those consequences are,” he says.

”Absolutely that charges it and there are references in the play as to the fact that they are having to lose a third of their employees and whether you can get another job. Those are our headlines every day so it feels like the right play at the right time.”

Bull is informed by personal experience of working in an office and other jobs he had to support his writing in the early days.

“Seeing those places and how you have to go in and be with the same people that you haven’t chosen to be with and that inevitably leads to what we see in the play, a culture which can be entertaining and fun but it can turn and you can find yourself going into work everyday knowing you are going to have seven hours of hell . One of he questions of the play is that when times are difficult does that affect the behaviour and make that behaviour more likely to happen. Why do people do that, why are they so horrible to each other?”

Between Cock and Bull Bartlett has turned his hand to seemingly very different animals such as his epic play at the National Theatre, Earthquakes about climate change, the adaptation of Chariots of Fire which transferred to the West End, and an ITV mini-series, quirky crime thriller, The Town.

“I think the thing that interests me and charges what I write is a question of right and wrong and moral choices whther it’s personal choices of why do we do what we do and what is the right thing to do in certain situations and I think that is as much at the heart of Chariots of Fire – do I run on Sunday, why do I run at all? – as in Bull and the question of what lengths will I go in a work situation to get what I want.

“There’s also the parallel of the sporting arena. I love the idea you can come to a play and not just sit in your comfortable seat occasionally laughing or feeling moved but have a response to it which is more like a sports crowd and feel physically involved. The idea there are real people physically in the room with you. Just as the difference between watching football on TV and watching it live this is the difference between watching actors on television and watching them live in the theatre.

”That’s what I want to do, justify somebody getting out of their house and buying a ticket and coming to the theatre and parking their car and doing all of that. I think you have to give people a real reason to do that rather than sitting at home and I think that’s what Chariots of Fire and Bull both do.”

Bull runs until Saturday at the Crucible Studio.