Comics were out in force and applauding warmly at last night’s opening of The Mentalists, in which fellow stand-up and The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant made his West End acting debut – but what did critics think?
Most overnight reviews fall in the three-star range, underwhelmed more by the choice of play than the performances of Merchant and his stage veteran co-star, Steffan Rhodri. Richard Bean‘s “slight” two-hander originally premiered in a temporary studio at the National Theatre in 2002, and many critics wonder why it was chosen for such a high-profile West End star vehicle, particularly one, carps the Telegraph, being sold at grossly inflated ticket prices.
But the new timeliness of Bean’s biting wit (“the Greeks peaked early”), interviews with Merchant and news related to The Office and his association with Ricky Gervais, as well as a new arm-candy girlfriend and a white-mesh dress worn by Kate Beckinsale help to generate more press interest in The Mentalists.
The Mentalists continues at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre until 26 September 2015.
What the papers (and others) say
INDEPENDENT – ★★★★
Paul Taylor: Stephen Merchant and Steffan Rhodri are a fine double act in this on-the-run drama… Their chemistry convinces you that this is a double act that goes a long way into a childhood…
TELEGRAPH – ★★★
Dominic Cavendish: I hate to carp about West End ticket prices but £96.75 to see Stephen Merchant making his theatrical debut in a revival of a 2002 two-hander? Are they out of their minds?!
GUARDIAN – ★★★
Michael Billington: I can’t help feeling that a modest piece has been inflated to make a pricey West End star vehicle. It all makes for a strange evening… with a needless interval…
MY THEATRE MATES – ★★★
Luke Jones via Theatre Cat: The jokes bought this play some time…It is not the storming two-hander you might expect, but this play grows into something funny, shocking and unsettlingly tragic…
THE STAGE – ★★
Mark Shenton: Abbey Wright’s new staging keeps the play bright and modern, but with diminishing returns as it deals with mounting hysteria. An odd revival…
TIME OUT – ★★★
Andrzej Lukowski: The subtleties and singularities of Ted feel obscured till the very end, when Merchant taps into a childlike charm that makes some sense of the character. But it feels a bit late…
Quentin Letts: There is a moment in the first half when Morrie falls asleep while listening to his friend. I nearly joined him in snoozy oblivion. For all its quirkiness, the evening drags…
Steve Bennett: The jokes are strong, and played nicely by both Merchant and co-star Steffan Rhodri; so even if this brisk play feels more like a snack than a banquet, it is at least a tasty one…
Veronica Lee: While Stephen Merchant is a plausible and engaging misfit, his transformation into borderline psychotic takes some believing in Abbey Wright’s straightforward production…
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