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Review Round-up: Critics Divided Over Rubinek's Advice

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Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula, Men Behaving Badly's Caroline Quentin, Ghost Stories' Andy Nyman and Pulling's Sharon Horgan star in the world premiere of Saul Rubinek's Terrible Advice which opened last week at the Menier Chocolate Factory (29 September 2011, previews from 22 September).

The debut play by Hollywood actor Saul Rubinek, whose credits include playing Daphne’s fiancé Donny on the Emmy award-winning TV show Frasier, Terrible Advice is helmed by director Frank Oz whose credits also include co-creating the Muppets and voicing Star Wars Jedi Master Yoda.

Stanley (Stinky to his friends) and Jake are best friends. Hedda and Delila are best friends. Jake loves Hedda; Stinky loves Delila. Stinky plans to marry Delila… until Jake shares some secrets and then gives him some advice…

Terrible Advice continues at the Chocolate Factory until 12 November 2011.

Theo Bosanquet

"…It's an interesting idea – how many of our life choices are influenced by the often dubious advice of others? … It's very obvious that both Rubinek and director Frank Oz (best known for his work on the Muppet Show) have been heavily influenced by the sitcom formula; at times I half expected Oz to run on and shout 'cut'. The play has a deeply episodic structure, and the staging is functional at best. But despite my doubts about the material the cast are undoubtedly stellar. Bakula and Nyman capture the essence of their characters as men caught up by the modern obsession with the glamour of dysfunction (the idea that you're only really living if you're sleeping around). And it's always a delight to see comic actresses of Horgan and Quentin's quality on stage … This is no modern classic, but nor is it a stinker (unlike some previous comedies at the same address). And when we so often bemoan the leaking of stage talent to television, it's nice to see it running the other way, for once.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"First-time writer Saul Rubinek, better known as a busy transatlantic actor, has been pondering his debut drama on and off for more than 30 years. And it proves as devastating a depiction of what goes on in the minds of men, and in lower portions of their anatomy, as you are likely to come across … Frank Oz, best remembered for his work on the Muppet Show, directs a crisp, merciless production of this artfully plotted and perceptive comedy and there are terrific performances. Bakula brings both loucheness and a persuasive edge of desperation to the womanising Jake, and Nyman, who bears a comic resemblance to a garden gnome, achieves Woody Allenish heights of solipsistic neuroticism as Stinky. Caroline Quentin is both funny and touching as the real estate woman who isn’t quite as tough as she seems while Sharon Horgan is sparky as the infertile Delila, though the play’s major weakness is that it largely fails to capture the gnawing agonies of childlessness.”

Sarah Hemming
Financial Times

"This is the premise for Rubinek’s play: that much of the advice we get or give is bad, even terrible. A good point, as is his observation that split-second decisions can change lives, but he doesn’t get very far in examining this intriguing psychological territory. The play beaches somewhere between funny and emotionally convincing … Andy Nyman brings lovely timing to the neurotic Stanley, but it is hard to see how this unprepossessing, self-centred man could be dallying with three women, and his selfish attitude to his girlfriend’s infertility is so hard to credit that it’s not funny … Caroline Quentin is funny and touching as the competent woman whom Jake uses as a meal ticket while he seeks his kicks elsewhere, and Sharon Horgan does well with Delila, Stanley’s underwritten girlfriend.”

Libby Purves
The Times

"In Rubinek’s neat four-hander, directed with brisk wit by Frank Oz, of The Muppets and Star Wars fame, plentiful laughs and immaculate comic performances are backed by a merciless focus on the absurdities of male middle age … After the banter and delicately brutal layers of misunderstanding, the play darkens to acknowledge real pain, mutual dependence and mental fragility … When it lightens again, it is not into tragic or comic resolution but dry resignation. A sort of universal shrug. No spoilers, but expect great laughs and a pattern in which each of the men in turn gives the other disastrous advice … The central question is whether, as the years accumulate, you should look for a great love which makes you ‘see in colours and be glad to be born’, or settle for affection and a home. The fourth star is because there’s a heart in here somewhere, though not on the sleeve.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"Rubinek is probably best known as Daphne's fiancé Donny in Frasier, though he's appeared in more than 60 films. Here he seems stuck in sitcom mode, shaping a succession of underpowered sketches that don't add up to a compelling whole … The script contains some stinging moments, which, along with the focus on storytelling (its comforts and confidence tricks), call to mind David Mamet's plays about desire and exploitative relationships. Yet good lines alone don't make good theatre, and Terrible Advice fails to sustain interest. It lacks atmosphere and dramatic life, and runs out of steam in the second half. Fans of those involved - a passionate constituency, judging by the gaggle of admirers lining the Southwark backstreets on press night - will pounce upon it. But it is surprisingly insipid and hovers uncomfortably between black comedy and all-out farce.”

Michael Billington

"If you were being charitable, you might say that Saul Rubinek, an experienced Canadian actor, has written a satire on male manipulativeness in the manner of Neil LaBute. But what he has actually come up with is a coarse sex-comedy that reveals as much contempt for the play's female victims as it does for its emotionally inadequate men … Frank Oz diligently directs a play whose characters have less spark than the Muppets he co-created. Scott Bakula works overtime to lend the dismal Jake a tousled charm and Andy Nyman does all he can as Stanley. Sharon Horgan as Delila meanwhile wanders round looking for something to do, and it is left to Caroline Quentin as Hedda to garner most laughs through her comic timing. She provides some much-needed action by changing a car wheel on stage. A pity she couldn't have changed the play at the same time.”


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