The Mentalists

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green reviews The Mentalists directed by Abbey Wright at the Wyndham’s Theatre.

It is hard to imagine how Richard Bean, creator of two of the funniest and most lauded comedies of the recent years, One Man Two Guvnors and Great Britain could pen something so lacklustre as the Odd Couple comedy The Mentalists, a 2002 work revived in a new production, directed by Abbey Wright, at the Wyndham’s Theatre.

Two long-time friends who first met at a children’s home and have had a wonky, affectionate relationship ever since, come to a run-down hotel in Finsbury Park where the room rate is £40 a night but where one of the men, Ted m a middle manager for an industrial cleaning company, finds that his firm’s credit cards to pay for it are repeatedly declined. Meanwhile his hairdresser pal Morrie worries whether Ted will have the £50 fee he has been promised for making a five-hour video in which Ted expands his bizarre dream of a community way of life inspired by the controversial American psychologist BF Skinner. Both men are forced to confront the darker side of their relationship as events unravel.

This tale of friendships of and utopian visions gone awry is prepared with a sprinkling of decent jokes. But they can’t redeem a play that flounders on its lack of dramatic development and essential improbability, even as it tries to come to terms with larger existential problems.

As co-creator of TV hits The Office and Extras (with Ricky Gervais), Stephen Merchant is a past master at the comedy of nerdy discomfort but the gangling 6’ 7” actor, here making his stage debut seems ill at ease as Ted, our testy anti-hero who has had a row with his wife and can’t see a future with his kids and he has a tough job making him seem plausible. Steffan Rhodri as his co-collaborator Morrie, the fantasising hairdresser and part-time, cameraman, specialising in soft porn, who has been roped in to bring Ted’s vision to life to attract potential acolytes, tries to make the most of a complex, underwritten role.

Bean, who in the past has shown an ability to combine farce, surrealism and wickedly dark humour, certainly shows a wry compassion here for life’s lovers and misfits, and director Abbey Wright manages to emphasise the characters’ ineptitude but, in all truth, the weak script fails to exploit the dramatic possibilities and fully engage out emotions.

The Mentalists
Runs until September 26
Box office: 0844 482 5120

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