The Mentalists – a comedy by Richard Bean sounded like a sure fire winner. After all Richard Bean wrote ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ , a play I saw starring James Corden, which I had loved. I’m also quite fond of Stephen Merchant, having enjoyed his collaborations with Ricky Gervais over the years, and who stars in this two hander with Stefan Rhodri, best known maybe for his role as Dave in Gavin and Stacey.
Well let’s start with the positives! Wyndhams Theatre is a lovely theatre , refurbished in 2008 it is resplendent in gold and eau de nil. Even the chairs are eau de nil – you have to hope they went for the scotch guard protected upholstery or they will be refurbishing again quite soon. It’s cosy and beautiful. Lots of gilding to wonder at and a fabulous ceiling. But to be honest, nice though that is, its the play that we had come for.
The set is a depressing cheap hotel room in Finsbury Park. There’s a trouser press attached to the wall, a shelf for a kettle and cups and as Ted notices the door is veneered maple – you get the idea. Ted, played by Stephen Merchant and his friend Morrie, played by Stefan Rhodri have taken the room to make a video. Ted has read a novel, Walden 2 by B F Skinner and this has inspired him to create a new way of living where good behaviour and cleanliness seem to be his priorities. He has placed adverts in the national papers, except The Guardian, (this got a laugh) inviting people to send £29.99 to receive this video about the Utopian society he plans to create. Ted is a fleet manager and his pal Morrie a hairdresser with a sideline in pornography, hence his possession of and proficiency with a video recorder.
There are plenty of laughs, it’s poignant too and Stephen Merchant spends a good proportion of the time in his boxer shorts. He looks better undressed than one should have the right to expect given his rather lanky stature. But I found myself distracted by the homeless man sitting in one of the boxes who was swiftly falling asleep. I was concerned, as his nose headed towards his knees, that he may well tumble off his chair. Now I realise one can’t really judge a play by how quickly a homeless man falls asleep wearing his huge overcoat in a very warm theatre, he may not have previously had the best night’s sleep ever, but my husband also fell asleep and he has quite a comfortable bed.
We laughed a bit, we watched the homeless man through his many stages of sleep and jolting awake and we enjoyed Stephen Merchant having his hair washed on stage, but when it came down to it we didn’t really believe it and we didn’t really care.
Of course there were moments. I loved the observation by Merchant’s character that the Greeks had peeked too early and Morrie’s description of the perfect murder, worryingly for one member of the audience, involving a homeless person. He may have been asleep during that part. One can only hope.
It’s light and moves at a pace but I fear Stephen Merchant is a better writer than actor and sadly he didn’t write this piece. Would I recommend it? Not really, but if you want a night of light entertainment and Bollywood music I noticed that ‘Bend it Like Beckham – the Musical’ was on down the road.