Stephen Merchant famously known as the co-creator of ‘The Office’ makes his West End debut, as a nervous disgruntled Ted who spends more time banging on about the meagre refreshments and quality of the doors in a 2-3 star B&B than laying out his solution for humanity’s salvation. After reading B.F Skinner’s Walden Two found in a dusty cardboard box, Ted finally thinks he has found the secret to happiness through abandoning material possessions and forming a community where love and kindness reigns free. Obviously, you can’t form a community of one, and so Ted starts to introduce the way to utopia by creating website, asking for viewers to sponser the community. He enlists the help of his best friend, perhaps his only friend Morrie [Steffan Rhodri] a salon owner with a penchant for adult photography on the side to deliver his groundbreaking message to the world via the internet.
The Mentalists created by Richard Bean [Made in Dagenham, One Man,Two Guvnors] premiered in 2002 at the National theater, the timing of this revival was quite apt in that this year was a huge turning point in politics, so much has changed in the last few months.It did take a while to get into the play, the almost fanatical ravings of the state of society today and the state of the hotel room felt dry and repetitive at times but towards the second half we could start to see the cracks behind Ted fantasy. What I really enjoyed about the play was the interaction between Rhodri and Merchant, on the surface their characters were complete opposites, the campness of Morrie clashed with Ted’s aggressive outbursts it was hard to work out how they were friends. However I couldn’t fault the acting, as I found it difficult to believe that they weren’t best friends in real life, you could sense the familiarity between them and it was subtle shifts in how they mirrored each other, the body language very well choreographed.It was a great idea to see these two actors play against each other in such a small intimate setting, the strength of this play is definitely the characterization and it is a delight to watch that interaction on stage.
It’s clear that Ted is hiding something from Morrie, from himself even, this obsession with Walden Two and a community has left him with almost nothing, the loss of his kids, wife, even job.It’s almost frightening to see how gripped he is in this idea, the countless lies he has told have caught up with him. The most alarming thing I get from Bean’s comedy is how easy it is to from little complaints, paranoia and mental instability can blossom, the frantic movements of Merchant as he realises the truth is coming out is equally hilarious and disturbing, with Ted using a radiator to bash the cheap plywood tat they call a door and escape.
This is the first time i have seen a two-hander play, in that there are only two actors on stage, it was a strange experience but the entire show was directed so well that it didn’t need another character on stage. The set didn’t change, I’m used to seeing props being moved about ,the only thing moving were the sandwiches and that radiator, but it still felt fresh and new. The entire play takes place in a bed and breakfast hotel room in Finsbury park, although the quality of the room isn’t great,it is a fine establishment holding 2-3 stars.The running time of the play was short, only 1 hour and 45 minutes but that was more than enough time to get to the root of Ted’s problems and really get to know the characters.
The Mentalists runs until 26th September and the Wyndham’s Theatre, I highly recommend you go to see it, a funny, thought-provoking play and the theatre is absolutely stunning,a work of art.