New ITV psychological drama based on Broadway play was first performed in Sheffield

Doctor Foster creator Mike Bartlett explores the impact of office bullying in new ITV show based on Broadway play first performed in Sheffield.

Tuesday, 10th December 2019, 4:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 11th December 2019, 4:46 pm

An unassuming business park in Reading is perhaps not the setting you'd expect for a psychological thriller.

But writer Mike Bartlett, aged 39, wanted viewers of Sticks And Stones, based on ‘powerful’ play ‘Bull’ which he also wrote, to see that the corrosive effects of workplace bullying can happen anywhere.

Bull was first performed at the Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield, in 2013 and Bartlett, who also created hit drama Doctor Foster, found adapting it for telly quite emotionally challenging.

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Susannah Fielding as Isobel, Ken Nwosu as Thomas, Sean Sagar as Andy, Ben Miller as Carter, Ritu Arya as Becky.
Susannah Fielding as Isobel, Ken Nwosu as Thomas, Sean Sagar as Andy, Ben Miller as Carter, Ritu Arya as Becky.

Across three episodes, the ITV, psychological drama which stars Ken Nwosu and Ben Miller, centres on the personal and professional life of Thomas Benson, who works in the competitive world of sales.

Discussing the story, Oxford-born Bartlett notes: "I was very keen that we keep the focus on the almost arbitrary nature of bullying, that this can happen to anybody; it's not happening to him because he's a certain age, or because it was a woman, or anything like that.

"It's happening, and he doesn't know why it's happening."

Asked about the message of the series, Bartlett says he wants viewers to think about their actions more: 'If I make that joke, I won't see the effect now - the effect on that person will happen at two in the morning when they're crying in their bed."

Susannah Fielding as Isobel, Ken Nwosu as Thomas.

While Bartlett hasn't experienced bullying himself, reflecting on scenarios he witnessed while working a temp job after university helped drive his script.

"There was a group of us, and I realised somebody had become the butt of the joke, and it took me a few days longer than it should have done to put my hand up and say, 'I think we should stop'," he confides.

"You're not just guilty of this stuff if you're the one doing it; you're also guilty if you know it's happening, and you're standing on the outskirts not stopping it. You're complicit."

Sticks And Stones airs on ITV over consecutive nights from Monday, December 16.

Ken Nwosu as Thomas, Susannah Fielding as Isobel, Ritu Arya as Becky, Ben Miller as Carter.