I’ve never been totally convinced about Richard Bean’s work. “One Man, Two Guvnors” was an unexpected world-wide hit and “Great Britain” was a superb and timely satire but the book for “Made In Dagenham” was far too broad for the musical and “Smack Family Robinson” was just an insufferable mess. But there’s no doubt this multi-award winning dramatist has a big following and I presume that was why this play originally performed at the National in 2002 has been revived.
Another reason for its revival is as a vehicle for Stephen Merchant who had enormous success as a writer on television with “The Office” both in the UK and the USA and as a performer in his own American TV series “Hello Ladies” and its movie spin-off. He’s been quoted as saying the last time he performed as an actor was in a school play – so I can only surmise that this a vanity project for the former stand-up comedian who’s made it big.
The play is set in a hotel room in Finsbury Park which Merchant as Ted and Stefan Rhodri as Morrie are using to film a video. You’re led to believe that there’s something pornographic about the subject matter as Morrie is a hairdresser who films porno movies in his spare time but it turns out that Ted wants to film himself selling an alternative lifestyle community based on a novel he’s found in a shed and the first act ends as Ted is doing his long pitch to camera.
In the second act we learn more about the two characters both of whom are total losers and how they got to this point in their sad, depressing lives and why. The play is billed as a “darkly comic” but it’s not that dark and it’s certainly not that comic!
The plot is flabby – Ted doesn’t have any money but has booked ads in most of the week-end newspapers to advertise his life-style video (apart from The Guardian – cue another weak joke). The dialogue is peppered with gratuitous swearing (a feature of Bean’s work) and is lazily constructed. For example, Morrie’s description of his well-endowed Dad, is “it’s like a babies arm holding an apple” (a phrase I first heard as a schoolboy many years ago). Then in the second half there’s a speech about Greece that with a tiny re-write that Bean could have done in his sleep, would have made it current and relevant instead of using an unfunny punchline about Greek taxi drivers in flip-flops!
Merchant spends most of the play in bare feet (incredibly that’s an important plot point) so his one-note performance is jerky and twitchy as if the stage was a hot-plate. Both he and Rhodri do their best but the plot and the dialogue just aren’t very good. I realise I was seeing an early preview so the performances might get better but unfortunately the writing won’t.
I’ve given the play 2 stars – one for me for getting there on the night of the tube strike (many didn’t judging by the number of empty seats) and one for the fact that it’s mercifully short!
Review by Alan Fitter
Ted (Stephen Merchant) has a master plan to revolutionise the world – and with help from his best friend Morrie (Steffan Rhodri) and his trusty video camera, it may just go global! But Morrie begins to suspect that Ted’s in trouble as unpaid bills and cryptic phone calls start to mount; and as the world closes in on their hotel room in this hilarious and touching comedy, there is only one way out.
BAFTA and Golden Globe award-winning Stephen Merchant (The Office, Extras, Hello Ladies) stars with critically acclaimed actor Steffan Rhodri (Gavin & Stacey, Harry Potter, Posh) in this sharply written comedy from Richard Bean, writer of the smash hit, One Man, Two Guvnors.
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.45pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 3.00pm
Booking Until: 26th September 2015
Monday 13th July 2015