Brian and Roger at the Menier Chocolate Factory – review

The show opens new space The Mixing Room

Dan Skinner
Dan Skinner
© Nobby Clark

If your idea of a good night out at the theatre is watching two grown men dress up in ridiculous outfits while pretending to be chased by dogs, shagged by an elephant or bitten by a poisonous snake while all the while shouting at each other on mobile phones, then this is the show for you.

On the other hand, if it isn't, you'd probably be a lot better avoiding this horrible farrago of nonsense that opens the Menier's new space The Mixing Room and listening to a podcast. Which is where the idea for the whole sorry affair came from in the first place.

The podcast, a sitcom created by Harry Peacock and Dan Skinner, imagined two sad divorcees who meet at a support group. Both are, in their different ways, failures, struggling to make new lives. But only Roger is nice. The basic concept, dished up in 15-minute chunks, is that Brian exploits his friend's vulnerability and makes him do his dirty work – with generally terrible results. Their adventures are reported in the form of phone messages between the pair which – on the basis of my limited listening – are funny, with a dark streak of melancholy.

In turning them into a stage play that lasts nearly two hours, the writers have gone for the epic, and transformed an acerbic slice of life into a preposterous adventure, where unlikely event is piled on unlikely event as Brian leads Roger on a wild goose chase that starts in suburban England and ends up in China.

It keeps the structure of the podcast – all the scenes, bar one played in the dark, are in the form of reported speech down a phone. But it loses all charm as it gets ever more frenetic. The kind of smart humour that can make Roger utter the immortal line "I'm not sure how compatible contacting the dead is with some of the medication I am currently taking" or envisage two grown men who are respectively living with Asian IT students (Brian) or sleeping on the sofa of an 82-year-old pensioner (Roger) is quickly sacrificed in a plot about gangsters.

The result is a skit in search of a script, a seemingly endless and preposterous sketch that tests credulity as it strives for ever bigger laughs and wastes the talents of Skinner (who plays with Roger with a gloriously baffled comic timing) and Simon Lipkin, who has stepped into the part of Brian with days to spare on stage.

Designer Robert Jones and video designer Timothy Bird enjoy themselves switching the scenes from hospital wards to mountains, providing the wit that the production – directed with a heavy hand by David Babani – so singularly lacks. In all other respects, it's a bafflingly misjudged affair.