by Richard Bean.
Wyndhams Theatre Charing Cross Road WC2H 0DA To 26 September 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5120.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 July.
Comic manner with serious intent.
What are two middling-age men doing in a shabby hotel bedroom one day? One’s filming the other. Why? He’s been asked to, and wants the £50 cash he’s been offered. How did they meet? What’s the filming about?
Richard Bean plants questions in audience minds and via seemingly inconsequential details which turn out to be signposts to the truth, gradually reveals not only the purpose but the mental state of Ted
Defeat is written into the walls of the cheap room, and all it contains. Success shines from Ted’s manner and smart clothing. Except he has no socks. And the eventually-revealed childhood link between them has a sadness, for nothing in adulthood would have brought them together.
The lack of footwear leads to one of the loudest of the play’s several laughter moments, while being emblematic of the bareness which increasingly shows Ted’s optimism to be a desperation that dare not stop spinning.
Stephen Merchant gleams and smiles through it all until even Ted realises the difference between aspiration and delusion. By when things have acquired a more sinister context. Ironically, it’s one of Morrie’s few talking-points that sets-off the trail to the conclusion. Tell a fantasist your fantasy and it may be tried for real.
Bean’s story makes a sad procession, lined with humour along the way. It’s well-told and Abbey Wright’s production gives space to the humour while maintaining the intrigue and mystery of the unfolding back-story – which is where the narrative interest lies.
Laughs here are made to dry in the throat as the situation develops. It’s far more than a comic anecdote, but attenuated as a West End evening (the premiere was part of a rapid-rep in a fit-up theatre at the National).
Alongside Ted’s loud confidence, the quietly demurring Morrie tries increasingly to anchor his companion in some sense. Quietly, often through facial reactions, Steffan Rhodri steers audience understanding. And his final demonstration of Ted’s situation – involving an apt prop – has a quietly insistent dignity, with a devastating impact on the once-confident man.
Ted: Stephen Merchant.
Morrie: Steffan Rhodri.
Director: Abbey Wright.
Designer: Richard Kent.
Lighting: David Plater.
Sound/Composers: Ben and Max Ringham.
AV: Duncan McLean.
Voice coach: Zabarjad Salam.
Dialect coach: Majella Hurley.
Assistant director: Billy Coughlan.