There’s a very enjoyable article in the programme for “Terrible Advice” by the writer Saul Rubinek, about how he came to write the play. It seems that it’s been a mere 34 years in the making. At this rate, it’ll be 2045 before we see his next offering, which would be a shame because this is an intelligent, witty, hard-hitting, and extremely funny play, tightly directed by Frank (How’d you like a Pork Chop!) Oz, who gets the best out of the talented cast, and I’m pleased to say it’s all good.
It’s a little difficult to talk too much about the play without giving away a lot of the plot, and I don’t want to spoil it for you. But once the first scene gets underway, you’re hooked. Two guys, who have been friends for years, talk about sex on a hot afternoon by the pool. The difference between the two is instantly obvious. Scott Bakula’s Jake is clearly the kind of guy who is Very Successful With Girls, and knows it. He lounges around in his swimming shorts, all tanned and confident, knocking back the beers while watching the ball game on his computer; the ultimate in cool. You know this guy – we all do. It’s a really excellent performance, completely convincing, wonderfully capturing the reprobate nature of the man whilst still getting us to have some sympathy for him.
Andy Nyman’s Stanley is clearly Not Very Successful With Girls, and is a vision of repression by comparison. Dressed in a formal shirt, jacket and even reinforced with an undervest, the sweat uncomfortably trickles off him. Not cool at all. Again you feel totally familiar with this character – some of us may actually be him. Andy Nyman turns in a wonderfully comic performance, lurching from sad to confused to distinctly unhinged as he carries out Jake’s terrible advice. These two characters work really well together. They’re funny, they’re miserable; they’re way out of their depth although only one of them realises; they’re both on their way down, but for how long will either of them stay there?
Helping and hindering them on their journeys down and up and in all directions are two of the girls in their lives – Sharon Morgan’s Delila (Stanley’s wannabe fiancée, or maybe not) and Caroline Quentin’s Hedda (Jake’s long time girl friend). There’s a great scene where Hedda has video’d herself so that she can ensure she gets Jake’s attention – and it brings all Caroline Quentin’s marvellous comic abilities to the forefront. Dealing with all those Men Behaving Badly was a useful preparation for this role. She also shows herself to be something of a dab hand at changing a car wheel – and hats off to the Menier for the clever way they get that car on the set! Mind you, whereas Meera Syal’s Chips and Egg was of a Michelin star quality, I’m not sure Ms Quentin’s car would get round the corner without the wheel falling off – I think she should spend more time tightening her nuts. Elsewhere she is superb as an impatiently randy bed partner, and also really rather scary when confronting Stanley as she tries to get to the bottom of the guys’ suspicious behaviour.
It’s also brilliantly funny to watch Sharon Morgan experiencing Delila’s world falling apart. As her façade of relative normality unravels, she has to cope with her relationships spinning off in all directions, which I won’t tell you about because that will spoil the plot. The four actors integrate so well together, and the entertainment lever is set to full-on energy, that you have to think the rehearsals must have been a complete hoot. After the excellent Road Show, the Menier remains on form with this very funny play, with all four performers giving star turns. What more could one ask?