Terrible Advice, Menier Chocolate Factory

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The Independent Culture

The nerdy perpetual loser and the womanising jock: they go together like a horse and carriage. Saul Rubinek puts just such a dubious male friendship in the spotlight in Terrible Advice, his entertaining, if patchy, debut stage play set in contemporary Los Angeles. Now hitting their forties, Rubinek's pair have been buddies since university. Stanley, an overweight, neurotic college lecturer (beautifully played by Andy Nyman) is in a fix. He's dating a woman, Delila (Sharon Horgan), who can't give him the child he thinks he wants, and he keeps sneaking back for illicit sex with his pregnant former wife. To cap it all, he's been suspended from his job for unburdening himself "inappropriately" on a female student.

So, although every wrong turn Stanley has taken with women seems to be his old pal's fault, he turns for advice to Jake, a raddled, but still functioning, stud (amusingly portrayed by Scott Star Trek Bakula). Fitted with a "blonde alarm" that protects him from commitment, this overgrown adolescent is currently the kept man of Hedda, a widowed, tough but long-suffering real estate agent whose struggle to maintain self-respect in the face of it all is communicated with both gutsy comic verve and a pained delicacy by the excellent Caroline Quentin.

Jake advises Stanley to dump all three of his women and chooses that moment to torture his pal with the confession that he once had a one-night-stand with Delila. As a result, all four characters wind up alone and miserable, but not before Stanley has exacted a certain revenge in kind. The piece, sparkily directed by Frank Oz, is being marketed as "a dark, dirty and dangerous play" but I can vouch for only the first two of those epithets. The sex-talk between the men is disgracefully funny and authentic but the drama fails sufficiently to explore the murky reasons for the interdependence of these male types or the mixed motives behind supposedly well-meant advice. The infertile Delila is woefully underwritten, while the steady flow of snappy one-liners ("I have trouble eating my own cereal," retorts Jake, when asked if he'd like to have children) ends up giving the piece an over-ingratiating feel. It's as if material that might have headed into risky Neil LaBute territory keeps being trapped in the habits of sitcom.

To 12 November (020 7378 1713)