The Mentalists – Wyndham’s Theatre – Review

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Stephen Merchant makes his West End debut in a revival of Richard Bean’s The Mentalists. I’m a huge fan of Stephen Merchant’s being an avid follower of his TV work ever since The Office. So I was looking forward to seeing him live finally. Previous readers of my blog will know I was hugely disappointed with Richard Bean’s One Man Two Guvnors . Would this play change my mind on him as a writer?

It’s a two-hander set in a grubby London hotel. Stephen Merchant and Steffan Rhodri are the protagonists Ted and Morrie. They’re close friends, with Morrie doing a favour for Ted when we meet them. They make an excellent choice of casting and bring their slightly unusual characters to life. As the play becomes more serious towards the end Morrie’s care and concern for Ted is quite movingly portrayed.

Steffan Rhodri as Morrie and Stephen Merchant as Ted

Steffan Rhodri as Morrie and Stephen Merchant as Ted

However the writing felt very “clunky”. Too often lines are in the script that are there simply for a laugh rather than as part of the organic text of the play. Too many of the lines feel contrived. Reading the programme Richard Bean admits that quite a bit of the material in the play is from his stand-up days. It shows far too easily and means it lunges from one stand-up gag to the next rather inelegantly.

It has some pathos which is quite touching but again its not developed enough for me, as it is building it’s interrupted for a gag. Which diminished any emotion that was building.

The actors give good performances, it’s just that the script doesn’t do their talents any favours. As I left I was glad to have seen it, but it will go in the “enjoyable enough night out but instantly forgettable” category of theatre for me.

 

STARS : ★ ★ ★

 

The Importance of Being Earnest – Vaudeville Theatre – Review

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eventImage_289I’m becoming a bit of a Vaudeville Theatre “groupie” – this is my third visit there this year! This time to see Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

This classic piece of theatre is revived again in the West End, this time with the twist of David Suchet playing Lady Bracknell. He makes the role his own, with looks and intonation that bring plenty of laughs from the audience. The infamous “a handbag?” scene he gives a refreshing difference to. He avoids veering off into pantomime dame thankfully.
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Oscar Wilde’s humour and observations are as witty as ever, he always takes things to extremities with his own views on marriage and society shining through. The cast have got their comic timing just right and it flows effortlessly.

Philip Cumbus as Algernon Mocrieff is the “bumbering” and enthusiastic central character, he puts on a great show, eliciting some brilliant laugh out loud moments, especially in the muffin eating scene in Act 2. His foil is John Worthing played by Michael Benz. These two interact perfectly and feed of each others energy and performances wonderfully.
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For me though the stand out performance was Imogen Doel as the lovestruck Cecily. On occasions I think her performances eclipsed David Suchet. She certainly got the biggest laughs and her flirty and rambunctious characterisation was sublime to watch. I hope we see more of her on the West End stage after this.

Michelle Dotrice’s vast experience as a comedy actress shows as Miss Prism, her physical comedy and comic timing never miss a beat. Whilst her role isn’t very large she gets the most from it and is wonderful to watch.

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Adrian Noble’s direction keeps everything moving at swift pace and the action is wonderfully enacted in Peter McKintosh’s set and costumes, keeping it in the stuffy Victorian era.

It is a fairly superficial night out at the theatre, perhaps a bit of a “guilty pleasure”.  If you fancy a theatre trip which will purely entertain you, leave you smiling and witness a fine comic cast then grab a ticket for this.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★

Di and Viv and Rose – Vaudeville Theatre, London – Review

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6218-fitandcrop-560x350My first play of 2015 has set the standard high with this poignant, moving and excellently executed piece of theatre.

It starts with a punchy, quick series of scenes that set up the action that is to follow. We follow the eponymous characters as they move into their shared university house and the trials and triumphs that occur during these formative years. I found myself reminiscing about those that I shared my student residences with. I only keep in sporadic touch with one, the rest have drifted off and I’ve no idea where they are (reading this review perhaps?). These three characters however firm a strong bond and we then follow their lives after university.

No surprise that there are some dramatic and unexpected turns in their lives. However the events are not contrived, they are just “life”. It was this sense of realism that particularly struck me as I looked back on my life since leaving uni. Life seldom goes as planned, it’s a journey and following these three divergent yet united lives illuminated my own life. Friendship like life changes as we grow and change ourselves.

Amelia Bullmore’s script is witty, heartfelt, realistic and crafted. She gives each character an authenticity which translates from the stage to the audience. She’s a writer I’ll be keeping an eye out for any future work. I hope there is much more to come from this talented writer.

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The cast of three deliver performances that are outstanding. Tamzin Outhwaite (who I last saw steal the show in Raving) delivers again. She is truly one of may favourite stage actresses. She manages to really transcend the stage. Her portrayal of the at one moment boisterous and then vulnerable Di drew us all in. A testament to her prowess was the gasp she elicited at one moment (no spoilers!) from several audience members.

Jenna Russell is the bubbly and effervescent Rose, she’s the pivot point of the trio’s relationship and how things pan out for her is unexpected but her character mucks along. The humour she brings to the stage is delightful.

Samantha Spiro plays the uptight and slightly stuffy Viv. Her character shows that hard work and focusing pays off. She gives texture to Viv though and enables us to see why she is so driven and that focusing can also lead to being blinkered to those around you.

Anna Mackmin’s direction keeps the action moving and the attention firmly on the three ladies lives.

I hope this is a sign of things to come along theatrically in 2015 for the West End. A funny, gutsy, thought provoking and well written play, executed with skill and understanding by the cast, is what we need more of!

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★

Thanks to SeatPlan and Offical Theatre for the tickets!