Wyndham’s Theatre, London, Saturday 22nd August, 2015
This 2002 play from Richard (One Man Two Guvnors) Bean is a two-hander set in a non-descript hotel room. Enter Ted and Morrie and a video camera… Ted has a message he wants to record, regarding himself as some kind of visionary after the discovery of an old book by behaviourist B F Skinner. Morrie, hairdresser and amateur pornographer, is there to operate the technology. The pair have been best friends since childhood, a chalk-and-cheese double act with banter aplenty.
As Ted, Stephen Merchant towers. His background in stand-up serves him well for the delivery of Ted’s tirades and Bean’s one-liners. It’s a relentlessly funny piece with the black humour of a Joe Orton and the menace of a Harold Pinter – the set-up (two men in a room) is very Pinteresque; there is even a moment when one reads stories from a newspaper to the other. There is the constant threat of someone outside the door: Ted’s credit cards keep bouncing – but that’s only the start of his troubles.
As Morrie, Steffan Rhodri gives more of a character study than Merchant. We sense there is more to him behind his anecdotes and his sexual boasts. Events spiral out of control and the friendship between these two damaged men becomes poignant: Ted is fixated on his message, wild-eyed and ranting. Morrie, the calmer of the two, brings a touch of normality to proceedings. Neither character is particularly likeable: Ted has a lot in common with Nigel Farage and Morrie is a manipulative womaniser, but it’s the performers we admire.
The climax is life-changing for both of them, but not in the way Ted wants.
A conventional, old-fashioned play, competently written by Bean and delivered by two performers with immaculate timing. Director Abbey Wright paces the laughs and the sense of impending disaster is well done. The Mentalists won’t change your life but it’s an amusing couple of hours, enjoyable while it lasts.