The Mentalists premiered at the National Theatre in 2002 and has been recently revived at the Wyndham’s Theatre in the heart of London’s Leicester Square.
Directed by Abbey Wright, The Mentalists consists of an intimate two-man cast, with The Office and Extras’ (BBC) Stephen Merchant making his West End debut as the slightly unhinged Ted. Ted is prone to outbursts, where he’d frequently go ‘off on one’ as his ‘best China’ Morrie would remark. Morrie is played by familiar co-star Steffan Rhodri, who is perhaps most recognisable as Dave Coaches from Gavin & Stacey.
The Mentalists follows Ted on a journey to revolutionise the world, with help from his long-time amateur filmmaker friend Morrie. Morrie soon becomes suspicious as unpaid bills and cryptic phone calls start to mount, resulting in a rather dramatic conclusion.
Stephen Merchant is an interesting casting choice for Ted. Both Richard Bean and Stephen Merchant share experiences as stand up comedians, yet Merchant’s lack of theatre experience is evident, often appearing the weaker link in both character and live acting ability. Merchant’s demeanour as the typical ‘Angry Frustrated Englishman’ works well and despite some minor flaws, Merchant and Rhodri seem to work well together on the stage.
Interestingly enough, it was Richard Bean’s degree in Social Psychology at Loughborough University that provided some inspiration for The Mentalists, introducing him to American behaviourist BF Skinner. Skinner’s novel Walden 2, published in 1948, has a starring role in The Mentalists, inspiring Ted to endeavour to create his very own Utopian community.
With additional references to Sigmund Freud and his ‘obsession with the human mind,’ The Mentalists never feels overly philosophical. The scene that sticks in my mind was in the second act, when Morrie uses metaphorical objects to force Ted to confront his current state of mind. The Mentalists is purely about the dialogue, bringing a refreshing air of simplicity to the West End.
The Mentalists is a very limited production. There is one set throughout – a basic bed and breakfast hotel room in Finsbury Park – making The Mentalists almost feel claustrophobic.
The Mentalists is a short production approximating an hour and 45 minutes, which doesn’t really pick up until after the interval, whereby the plot quickly escalates.
Jokes were the usual level of smutty with back and forth banter, but was by no means laugh out loud, with some jokes feeling a little dated. The Mentalists is hardly a sell-out show compared to Richard Bean’s previous work including One Man, Two Guvnors, Great Britain and Made in Dagenham. Admittedly, The Mentalists was the first production I’ve seen in a long time where there was no standing ovation. That said, The Mentalists is the perfect production for those seeking something a little tame and low profile.
The Mentalists is currently booking at the Wyndham’s Theatre until September 26, 2015. Groups of 8 plus receive discounted tickets for Monday to Friday performances, and Wednesday and Saturday matinees. School groups of 10 plus receive discounted tickets for Monday to Wednesday performances and Wednesday matinees, with one free teacher admitted per 10 tickets booked. For more information visit www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/tickets/thementalists