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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Mentalists
Wyndham's Theatre  Summer 2015

This startlingly unfunny comedy by Richard Bean wants to be a mordant but light-hearted look at how enthusiasm can turn into obsession and even into madness. It doesn't succeed, nor does it provide many laughs. 

Its only possible attraction for audiences is the presence of a familiar television actor doing much the same sort of thing they've seen him do on the box. 

Stephen Merchant (from The Office and other Ricky Gervais shows) plays Ted, seemingly a modestly successful middle-management type with a wife and kids, and a history of failed get-rich-quick schemes. 

He's brought his best mate Morrie (Steffan Rhodri), a barber and part-time pornographer, to a cheap hotel to film an infomercial for his current enthusiasm. 

Ted has stumbled on the work of B. F. Skinner, and now I must stop dead, as the play does, for a load of background exposition. 

Skinner was a behavioural psychologist who flourished in the 1950s with the theory that people could and should be trained like lab rats, taught good behaviour by being rewarded when they did right and punished when they went wrong. 

Skinner wrote a novel, Walden 2, about a utopian community whose members, having all been trained by the Skinner method to be good, were good to each other. 

Back to the play. Ted found and read a copy of the novel and wants to sell a thousand people (at 29.95 each) on the plan of starting a Skinnerian community in Britain. 

After the bulk of Act One is filled with random chatter about women, Bill Gates, one-legged dancers, miniskirts and haircuts, they finally get down to the taping. 

Act Two opens with Ted in his pants, for no clear reason except that it's presumably automatically funny, and then things abruptly turn much darker as we're told that he's not just eccentric but dangerously and criminally insane. 

Neither man seems particularly affected by this revelation, as Stephen Merchant doesn't play Ted any differently and Steffan Rhodri's character decides that the appropriate response is to offer him a haircut. 

Plot holes and illogicalities multiply, and then the play ends. Altogether it's roughly the length of a couple of episodes of a sitcom, except that the sitcom would probably have more actual jokes.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Mentalists - Wyndham's Theatre 2015 

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