Magazine article Variety

The Mentalists

Magazine article Variety

The Mentalists

Article excerpt


The Mentalists

credits: Wyndhams Theatre-, 759 seats; £59.50 ($92.73) top

playwright: Richard Bean

starring: Stephen Merchant, Steffan Rhodri

The success of Tony-winning London hit "One Man, T\vo Guvnors" has made Richard Bean a bankable playwright: His factory-set 1999 debut "Toast" popped up on the London fringe last year, and now "The Mentalists," a slight, subtle two-hander that was originally part of an experimental National Theater season in 2002, has been repurposed as a star vehicle for Stephen Merchant, co-creator of "The Office" and "Hello Ladies," to make his West End debut. It's a mismatch, though, as Abbey Wright's production steamrolls the play's ideas with sitcom-style laughter - and can't even find much of that.

Merchant plays Ted, a middling man in the middle of a midlife crisis, convinced he's hit upon a path to enlightenment. Inspired by psychologist B. F. Skinner's sci-fi novel "Walden Two," which sets out a blueprint for a utopian community, he's come to a tatty hotel in Finsbury Park to record a video message to like-minded souls. Behind the camera is Morrie, his old "china" (plate; rhyming slang for "mate"), a camp Cockney hairdresser and part-time soft-porn producer, played by Steffan Rhodri ("Gavin & Stacey").

Bean's play is far more interesting than Wright's production allows. Here it becomes an odd-couple comedy about two eccentrics left to their own devices to extemporize at length. Ted is a discontented conservative huffing and puffing about the way things are heading. Morrie's a fantasist, muttering fabrications about his father and claiming various virtuosic sexual conquests.

Bean used to be a standup comedian, and he's given his characters half-decent routines, which Merchant and Rhodri dispatch as such. Nerdy Ted rattles off a list of Britain's highways, and fumes about the fake maple-wood door. …

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