Theatre review: The Mentalists is overblown and overstretched

Melissa York
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Stephen Merchant as wannabe cultist Ted with Steffan Rhodri as Morrie
Wyndham’s Theatre | ★★☆☆☆

Long before the crowd-pleasing slapstick of One Man, Two Guv’nors, outrageous phone-hacking satire Great Britain and musical Made in Dagenham, there was The Mentalists. Playwright Richard Bean debuted this short play back in 2002 and now it’s back for a limited run. Only this time his success has ensured it’s in a West End theatre starring a bona fide sleb.

Stephen Merchant (co-creator of The Office and Extras) is undoubtedly the big draw in more ways than one. His gangly 6’7’’ frame lends his character Ted, an aspiring cult leader, a surreal, otherworldy air. He meets up with his “best china” Morrie (a cockney wide-boy played by Steffan Rhodri) in a hotel room to film a call-to-arms for people sick of “war”,“TV filth” and modern life, inviting them to join a utopian commune based on behavioural conditioning, rather than modern psychoanalysis. The title, of course, applies to Freud and his “junkie mates” as much as it does the protagonists.

It’s a classic odd-couple set up but the script feels dated, stuffed with one-liners that wouldn’t feel out of place in a 90s sitcom, such as: “You’ve got on the District Line, fallen asleep, and woken up in Barking.”

Despite Merchant and Rhodri’s best efforts and undeniable chemistry, the production feels overstretched; the theatre’s too big, the addition of an interval means it’s too long and the ticket price is too high (top seats are an outrageous £96.75). I can’t help feeling this revival would have been better off as a low-key charmer, rather than an overblown vehicle for a comedy giant.

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