On Saturday I was back in the West End again, this time to see a play: the newly opened production of ‘The Mentalists‘ at Wyndham’s Theatre. I’ve been to Wyndham’s a few times before, to see Relatively Speaking, Skylight and King Charles III, and each time I was sat quite high up – so it was lovely to be in such a good seat this time!
I’d been desperate to catch this play, partly for the cast and partly for the writer. Stephen Merchant & Steffan Rhodri are two of our finest comic actors, making it very exciting to experience their work onstage – and Richard Bean’s ‘Great Britain’ is one of my favourite plays that I’ve seen in London. So when the call came from the lovely Rebecca at TheatreBloggers.co.uk to review the show, how could I refuse?
The play itself is a two-hander, something I’ve not actually seen before on the stage. I enjoyed the note in the programme about the setting: the B&B “is a poor quality, but not seedy, two or three star hotel”. It certainly looked authentic, and brought back memories of my trips to London when I used to have to stay in cheap hotels (I lived in Somerset, so couldn’t come up for evening shows & go back the next day). Having the desk fan turned on onstage was a very good ploy – Theatreland has become rather warm of late, so it was refreshing (in more ways than one!) to walk into a cool auditorium.
The first act lays the groundwork brilliantly, without you really realising it. The basic premise being that Ted (Merchant) has a scheme he believes will make society a better place – but he can’t kickstart it without the help of best friend Morrie (Rhodri) and his trusty camera. As it began, I did start to worry that the amount of one-liners was going to encourage Merchant to deliver them in a stand-up comedy style. However, it didn’t take long for things to start flowing more naturally, as the back-and-forth between Merchant & Rhodri increased – and the audience lapped it up. I came into the theatre not really knowing the story, other than the little bits of the programme I had read, so I really enjoyed sitting there trying to work out exactly what was going to take place in that hotel room. The writing’s quality, in conjunction with the actors’ skill, teases & twists in a thoroughly entertaining & interesting way. So much so, it left me wanting more as the lights went down for the interval!
What I found interesting about this play is that it doesn’t follow a predictable path, but this doesn’t feel at all forced. Whereas the first half sets up the story steadily, events start to rapidly degenerate & spiral out of control in the second. This is where Merchant most impressed me; he plays a man ‘on the edge’ with a subtlety that makes it utterly believable. His desperation & horror at how his life has panned out are genuinely touching – in spite of the decisions it has caused him to make! Rhodri also shines in these sections in particular. He manages to portray a character who is wholly protective of his friend, but without compromising his Jack-the-lad nature. His frustration at his friend is always balanced with concern; you can see each emotion in his eyes, quite superb.
The play may deal with themes such as the breakdown of society & the application of behavioural psychology, but to me it’s ultimately about friendship. ‘The Mentalists’ is billed as a “touching comedy” – after the first act I did wonder whether they’d got this right, but once the show came to a close I could see they had. It’s a truly remarkable piece of theatre, which I really hope I will be able to experience again in the near future.
Theatre Bloggers: Theatrebloggers.co.uk
The Mentalists official site: http://www.thementaliststheplay.com/
The Mentalists official Twitter: https://twitter.com/MentalistsPlay