Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Mentalists; the Invisible

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Mentalists; the Invisible

Article excerpt

The Mentalists

Wyndham's Theatre, until 26 September

The Invisible

Bush Theatre, until 15 August

Richard Bean, the country's most bankable playwright, knocks out a new script every four months. Thanks to the success of One Man, Two Guvnors, he's not short of houses ready to stage his work. And the hunt for treasure in his back-catalogue continues. The Mentalists , from 2002, stars Stephen Merchant (co-writer of The Office ) and Steffan Rhodri as two needy chums pursuing a whimsical dream in a cheap hotel room. Chum One is a hairdresser who makes porn films on the side. Chum Two is a salesman who dreams of founding a rebel colony overseas. Chum One films Chum Two delivering a sermon that will kick-start the revolution. That, ladies and gentlemen, is about it.

Both players are as likeable as kittens romping on pink cushions and Abbey Wright's direction meets the quality of the script. Bean has wisely adopted Alan Ayckbourn's ruse of planting two sure-fire gags at the top of each act to enforce the idea that the play is a comedy. In truth it's a dippy Pinteresque melodrama about male outcasts finding friendship as a substitute for family. Their lowbrow routines are enjoyable enough. There's a complex visual gag about shoelessness which is executed faultlessly. Ditto the door veneer gag, set up in the opening lines and duly completed at the close. If you want shoelessness and veneer jokes, you won't find better ones in the West End. But the storyline curdles towards sunset. One of the pals, in a lengthy aside, describes the perfect felony. Here's what you do. Murder a vagrant, dump the petrol-soaked corpse at the scene of the crime, throw in a burning taper and whoosh, the flames consume everything as you escape undetected. Thanks for that, and now back to the colony plot. But one of the chums declares that the 'perfect crime' is a watertight project. How about a spontaneous killing spree? This converts an amusing meditation on cult leadership into a grisly comedy about mass murder. The fluffy-wuffy characters don't suit this homicidal twist and the dialogue lacks the necessary emotional resources to make the leapfrog credible. So what happened there? My guess is that Bean ran out of puff mid-script, bolted on a farcical ending, typed 'Curtain. The End', and started a brand new play. Not that it matters. This Popsicle will take up very little of your time and even less of your brain-power. …

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