Just hours after seeing a gripping revival of David Halliwell’s tale of disaffected youth, Little Malcolm, I’m watching a disappointing production of Richard Bean’s comedy, The Mentalists, at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre, which tackles a similar subject.
Here we have a middle-management worker, clearly in the grip of a breakdown, who is intent on finding happiness by starting his own Utopian commune.
Ted Oswald books into a seedy London hotel with his best friend, hairdresser and part-time pornographer, Morrie.
It takes a while before we realise Ted’s motives. He’s not planning a blue movie but an inspirational wake-up call to the world. Ted plans on recruiting 1,000 people to follow his dream of creating a paradise where everyone will be happy, where there would be no crime, litter or swearing.
He’s planned an advertising campaign in the national press. “But I’ve not put it in The Guardian. I don’t want any Guardian readers f*cking it up!” he declares.
And Morrie’s film of Ted’s rambling good intentions will be aired to attract “the right sort of people.”
You learn a lot about the two men over the course of the 90 minutes play with their troubled back-stories tellingly poignant. Both live in fantasy worlds of their own creation after being raised as Barnardo’s Boys, abandoned by their parents.
But it fails to engage until the last few minutes. It’s not funny enough, or satirical, or black enough. And while a comedy rooted in an appalling act of domestic violence may have seemed a hoot when first written in 2002, it is wholly unfunny, due to its prevalence, in 2015.
It may have looked good on paper casting Stephen Merchant to play the frustrated, neurotic and deranged Ted but he has a limited talent as an actor.
This two-hander sees Steffan Rhodri, as Morrie, feeding him gag lines and Merchant shouting and ranting like his mate, Ricky Gervais. There’s no subtlety or depth in his one-note performance.
Rhodri gives a compelling turn as a straight, though slightly camp, barber whose lists of conquests are probably as dubious as the stories he invents about his make-believe parents. He’s certainly far more credible.
The Mentalists is an overly ambitious production for a West End stage and its only attraction is in the novelty appeal of seeing Stephen Merchant’s debut stage performance.
The Mentalists runs at the Wyndhams until September 26.
Deranged fleet sales manager, Ted, plots a bright future for humanity in a Utopian paradise where everyone will be happy. Yours for just £29.99. Richard Bean’s The Mentalists is revived at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre.