Review: Stephen Merchant in The Mentalists, Wyndhams Theatre
The Mentalists is a revival of an early work by One Man Two Guvnors writer Richard Bean. He won awards for One Man which toured internationally as well as having a stint on Broadway. Skewering the two plays with a reference to One Man on marketing material for The Mentalists does, perhaps, give a slightly false impression as the two are different comedic beasts.
Set in a cheap hotel room in Finsbury Park, Ted (Stephen Merchant) has asked his old friend Morrie (Steffan Rhodri) to make a film for him.
Ted is a frustrated fleet manager from the Midlands who gets affronted by everything from the receptionist not knowing who Oswald Moseley is, to litter dropping and immigration. He's also in trouble, the depth of which gradually unfolds.
He also shoots amateur porn on the side and for a while we are led to suppose that this is where Ted's interest lies. It isn't; Ted had an hallelujah moment reading Walden Two by EF Skinner, a 1940s sci fi novel about changing human behaviour. Inspired he seizes upon a chance to not only create a society based on cleanliness and good behaviour but in being the leader he can elevate himself above the sea of forgettable ordinariness. The film Morrie is to make is a promotional video for Ted's demagogic utopia. Ted believes he is on the cusp of something big.
The two are oddballs and oddly complementary as friends and Bean mines their contrasting characters and outlooks for much of the humour. References to Greeks "They peaked too soon" and xenophobic comments about newspaper stories give the play resonance today.
While One Man was a farce full of belly laughs The Mentalists' sometimes dark, absurdist subject matter by comparison is somewhat subtler. The first half is a little slow but the second half comes together nicely as the tension is ramped. There are a good handful of laugh out loud moments - Bean has written some brilliant one liners - but the overall feeling is one of amusement rather than out and out hilarity.
The Mentalists is on at the Wyndhams Theatre until September 26 and is one hour and 50 minutes long including an interval.