Tag Archives: Steffan Rhodri

Ted Talks

THE MENTALISTS

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.

The-Mentalists-©-Delfont-Mackintosh-Theatres

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Double-dealing and Double Meanings

A MAD WORLD MY MASTERS

The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 20th June, 2013

My first impression of this doctored version of Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean comedy, here updated to Soho in the 1950s, was that it is very similar to West End hit, One Man Two Guvnors, in terms of period and knockabout feel.  I suppose what it really demonstrates is the unchanging nature of comic archetypes.

The language has been not-so-much updated as interfered with (in a knowing, oo-er Mrs kind of way) with modern-day interjections thrust into the play’s convoluted passages. Almost every line is a sexual metaphor of some kind.  I didn’t know where to put myself.The cast handle whatever comes their way with relish.

It’s at first a celebration of human flaws and foibles, as certain characters set out to take advantage of others in a variety of means. Dick Follywit (Richard Goulding) can’t wait to inherit his uncle’s fortune and so he sets out to rob the old man by dint of disguise and confidence trickery.  Goulding has something of a dynamic David Cameron about him (if you can imagine such a creature) – but don’t let that put you off. As his schemes unfold, it is with the old uncle that our sympathies lie. Ian Redford is marvellous as Sir Bounteous Peersucker, the victim of Follywit’s cons; he has peccadillos of his own, which make him ripe for exploiting. Scheming prostitute Truly Kidman (a superb Sarah Ridgeway) outdoes Follywit in the effectiveness of her deception.  She dresses as a nun in order to facilitate a sequestered wife’s liaisons with her lover.  That the wife is married to a Mr Littledick tells you all you need to know.  Her lover is one Penitent Brothel, a name that conjures up the duality of the character.  Played by the excellent John Hopkins, Brothel, having got what he wanted, repents of his lust and turns to self-flagellation instead, swapping one physical sensation for another.

There is much to admire in this strong company. Ishia Bennison delights as Truly Kidman’s mother and pimp; Richard Durden is a scream as “Spunky” the doddering old retainer whose hearing aids scream to herald his exits and entrances; Steffan Rhodri and Ellie Beaver as the Littledicks handle their broad comedy with aplomb, but my heart goes out to the hapless Constable (Dwane Walcott) perhaps the only innocent in the whole piece.

The production is riddled with contemporary music, some tunes more familiar than others. The cast have a go (Mrs Littledick’s Cry Me A River is poignant and apposite, Follywit’s number is less palatable – imagine the Bullingdon Boys doing Elvis) but most of the vocal stylings come from the sultry and soulful Linda John-Pierre.  I could happily have listened to her all night.

Director Sean Foley masters his mad world with total assurance.  The tampering with the text makes Middleton more accessible, demonstrating there is life in the old plots yet.  The play is still about what it was always about: the eternal folly of man. The moral seems to be we should enjoy others being made fools of while we can – we never know when it’s our turn.

In the last act, there is a play-within-a-play (a ruse to mask a robbery) and Sir Bounteous remarks that the ‘actors’ “have made faces at us, laughing at ourselves.”

There’s a double meaning in that.

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Penitent Brothel (John Hopkins) enjoys a Littledick (Ellie Beaver)