Saul Rubinek’s cynical stage sitcom, Terrible Advice, is a romantic comedy with less of the rom and more of the com. The men are adolescents and the woman demanding, but they are all united in their search for the same elusive dream.
In the hands of others, a healthy, non-dysfunctional relationship might not be such a stretch, but the four protagonists are not your average 40-somethings. There is Jake, an oiled-up man-child who declares the women in his ample stash of pornography to be “who I live with”, and his childhood friend Stanley, an introspective, fast-talking lecturer with more neuroses than a Woody Allen character.
The women fare no better. Stanley’s Delila, while endearingly wide-eyed and lost, has her mind, rather less endearingly, solely on herself. It is only Hedda we can find some sympathy for, shacked up with the womanising Jake but seemingly the only one grown-up enough to remove herself from the others’ constant whingeing.
As the name suggests, a piece of, not just terrible but immature and puerile, advice leads to the often comical, sometimes poignant, breakdown of the four characters’ lives. It’s like Friends ten years on when everything has gone horribly wrong, cups of coffee and witty banter are no longer strong enough to hit the spot and no one can remember how exactly it was they were friends in the first place.
While this may sound all a bit doom and gloom for the Menier Chocolate Factory, Rubinek’s script is darkly witty and treads the thin line between crude and rude, getting it just right, although you may never look at an apple in the same light again.
Andy Nyman and Scott Bakula are well cast as the unlikely friends. Nyman’s comical delivery is always perfectly timed and never over-egged; he spends the entire play teetering precariously between happiness and anxiety, proving tears are never far behind comedy. In contrast, Bakula is brilliantly uncomplicated. With a serious Peter Pan complex and the best days of his life left behind on the college football field, joints, sunbathing and blonds fill the gap where adulthood should have taken roots.
Although Sharon Horgan and Caroline Quentin are intensely watchable as the harassed Delila and motherly Hedda, Terrible Advice is set firmly in a man’s world and the women’s fates are left in the hands of Stanley and Jake. But in the resounding words of Hedda, she had a life before Jake and there’ll be life afterwards. A rare moment of sense amongst the madness.