“People won’t like all that control stuff”
Well Stephen Merchant may be rangy but he sure ain’t got range. Which isn’t that much of a problem if you’re a fan, which I suppose is kinda the point when it comes to stunt casting, but for the regular theatre-goer is more problematic. For he is considerably exposed – literally so at times, if beanpole is your thing – for the nearly two hours of this two-hander in the Wyndham’s Theatre, marking his West End debut.
Richard Bean’s The Mentalists has been described by the playwright as “a dialectic between permissiveness and authoritarianism” but essentially it boils down to two men shooting the breeze in a hotel room somewhere in Finsbury Park, the one complaining about his lot in life, the other seemingly just going along for the ride. Naturally there’s more to it than that as the mood darkens, motives are revealed, truths come to light etc etc
Personally this play came at a bad time as I’ve just seen David Halliwell’s Little Malcolm… which also features a man who loves to rant, and whose ostensible political proclivities don’t quite match the rhetoric he loves to spout, and it’s hard to feel that we need another play to tell us that disenchanted masculinity can lead to deluded monomania with tragic consequences, even when it is dressed up in Odd Couple humour as it is here.
The ever-reliable Steffan Rhodri offers a strong counter-balance to Merchant’s typical nerdish blokiness, his charm as Morrie much needed to temper the warped weirdness of Merchant’s Ted, but little in Abbey Wright’s production convinced me that this was a play worth reviving nor that this was in any way the right theatre in which for it to happen. I suppose we should just be thankful that it wasn’t another Ricky Gervais co-write that Merchant was starring in.