Interview: Marc Wootton on Bull, by Mike Bartlett

Audience members daring enough to have “ringside” standing tickets for Bull at the Young Vic, opening December 11th, have likely come because of Mike Bartlett. He’s the A-list playwright behind King Charles III, winner of this year’s Olivier Award for Best New Play.

Carrying on Bartlett’s winning streak, Bull also won at the 2015 Oliviers, this time for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre (it played a limited run earlier this year at the Young Vic). It marked a crucial double-whammy for Bartlett. Back with a new cast, Bull examines bullying in the workplace by placing three employees into a very real bullfighting ring. Only there’s a water dispenser in the corner and everyone’s in suits. Sound familiar?

English writer, actor and comedian Marc Wootton stars as Thomas in Bartlett’s Bull.

Wootton: Bullying is everywhere, isn’t it?

Bull is about verbal punches being thrown, but its cast packs a heavyweight punch too. Alongside Wootton it stars Nigel Lindsay (Speed-the-Plow), Susannah Fielding (The Merchant of Venice) and Max Bennett (Posh). Wootton, the British comedy actor and writer, is best known for his TV work including celebrity satire show La La Land. Film work includes the series Nativity!. He plays Thomas, an insecure and trodden-on office worker. His story is familiar:

“He’s doing his best but finding it a little tricky” Wootton said. “He’d be better off working in a book shop”.

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Playing the anxious, out-of-sync one in the office appealed to Wootton. He’s a big fan of Bartlett’s (he calls his writing exceptional), and really, the two aren’t dissimilar: both Wootton and Bartlett seek out versatility wherever they can.

“What’s great is that his (Bartlett’s) work stands prodding. There’s so many layers to it which can be played with in rehearsal – it withstands scrutiny.”

Bartlett’s superpower is his dealing with everyday thoughts in nimble and visionary ways. Wootton agrees.

“I think the beauty of the play is that it’s quite relatable, even though the particular situation is unidentifiable. I think (viewers can) pick up on their own cues. Anyone watching will be able to identify an Isobel, a Tony, a Carter and a Thomas.”

Isobel and Tony are Thomas’s fierce workplace competition. As a trio, they are fighting it out over two jobs. You do the maths: like The Apprentice, one of this lot will be getting fired.

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Though the play has a corporate feel, Wootton is keen to stress its universality:

“Bulling is everywhere isn’t it? – it goes on. I haven’t worked in an office but I have definitely experienced the themes of the play.”

If you’ve not experienced bullying at close quarters, get a ringside standing ticket for Bull. They’re not so much sensational as they are an added touch of theatre: once again in a Bartlett play, like in Earthquakes in London, the audience are uncomfortably, squeamishly close to the action:

“The audience are right there – on all four sides – inevitably you’re going to feel what they feel.” Wootton ponders. “I don’t know what they’ll think, but we’ll soon see.”

At the top of the interview, Wootton breezily asks how I’d rate my day. I give a 5.5 (I had man flu.) He was hovering on a 7 and I suggest that scores of 8 plus should be saved for special occasions. Marc Wootton agrees.

Might opening night be one? He gracefully avoids opening night talk.

I ask what else. “If the rehearsal goes well this afternoon”, he says, gleaming down the phone. That’ll be an eight.

Marc Wooton plays Thomas in Mike Bartlett’s Bull, directed by Clare Lizzimore. Bull opens Friday 10th December and runs until January 16th 2016 at the Maria, the Young Vic

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