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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Merchant’

In his fifteen year playwriting career Richard Bean has written no less than twenty shows (including two adaptations and the book for a musical) and we’re already getting revivals – his first play Toast at the Park Theatre last year and now his 2002 third play, originally seen at the NT’s first temporary space, The Loft. This one gets a West End run, presumably on the strength of his One Man, Two Guvnors success and the casting of Stephen Merchant in his stage debut.

It’s a two-hander set in a grubby hotel room in north London. Ted has decided to set up a utopian community based on an obscure novel he’s read and he has asked best friend Morrie (Steffan Rhodri) to film a video to help him promote it. By the interval, I was wondering if this really was a Richard Bean play. It was a bit dull. The second half though is packed with revelations, twists and turns. We learn about the nature of their friendship and back stories, we begin to differentiate between realities and fantasies and we learn what the play is really about. For me, though, the imbalance between the acts, holding back so much until the second act, is a fatal flaw.

Stephen Merchant acquits himself well as a stage actor and Steffan Rhodri does very well to play ‘straight man’ (with the attention and focus all on Merchant), but the play isn’t good enough to be a vehicle in itself and I left disappointed. If they’d mounted a lower profile Off West End production as a 90-minute show without the interval I think it would have fared a lot better. In the glare of the West End, with the expectations that (and the ticket prices) generates it sets itself up and fails to deliver.

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