Mendes' run of success ends as black comedy succumbs to the May blues

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The golden touch of the film and theatre wonder boy Sam Mendes appeared to have deserted him yesterday when it was announced that the first play from his new company is to close after just a fortnight.

The golden touch of the film and theatre wonder boy Sam Mendes appeared to have deserted him yesterday when it was announced that the first play from his new company is to close after just a fortnight.

Fuddy Meers, the European premiere of a Broadway hit by David Lindsay-Abaire, had been booking at the Arts Theatre in London until the end of August but will now have its final performance on Saturday. Despite a crack cast led by Julia McKenzie and Nicholas Le Prevost, the play suffered poor reviews and had failed to pull in the crowds since the first night on 25 May.

It is the latest in a string of early closures to have hit the West End, including those of Calico, for which Romola Garai won rave reviews as James Joyce's daughter, the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, starring Amanda Holden, and a revival of Neil LaBute's hit play, The Shape of Things.

The Society of London Theatre said that May was traditionally a bad month as audiences dropped at the first hint of good weather.

Nonetheless, the failure of a prestige venture with the Mendes imprint upon it is particularly surprising. One theatre insider said yesterday: "That show should have been sold out weeks before opening."

Fuddy Meers was the first highly-anticipated production from Scamp, the film and theatre company that Mendes established with two colleagues when he resigned from the Donmar Warehouse theatre in London in 2002.

Even though the play was directed by Angus Jackson, it was the Mendes backing for this non-PC black comedy that attracted attention. The decision to pull the show so soon after opening will be seen as an inauspicious start for the company and a rare disappointment for Mendes himself.

The 38-year-old Cambridge graduate has had a glittering career since getting his first break in 1989 when a director walked out of a production at the Chichester Festival Theatre and the young Mendes took over, to critical acclaim.

He went on to run the Donmar in London for a decade, making it one of the most thrilling and talked-about venues, with productions including The Blue Room, in which Nicole Kidman famously appeared nude.

American Beauty, his first venture into film-making, which starred Kevin Spacey, walked off with five Oscars. He then secured a cast including Paul Newman and Tom Hanks for his second film, The Road to Perdition.

He promised to continue the mix of theatre and film when he left the Donmar and founded Scamp, with Caro Newling, his right-hand woman from the theatre, and Pippa Cross, formerly of the BBC. After an intense year of development, the trio announced their first group of projects in February, including seven films, the first London revival of David Hare and Howard Brenton's play Pravda and a production of Macbeth directed by Katie Mitchell.

Newling said yesterday that Fuddy Meers' closure was disappointing. "We have great faith in the play and production, which had an excellent month-long run in Birmingham [before the West End], and continues to play to genuinely appreciative audiences in London," she said. "But this has been a particularly difficult month for the West End in general."

Terri Paddock, editorial director of the whatsonstage.com website, said she enjoyed Fuddy Meers (a play on the words "funny mirrors" to illustrate the distorting mirrors of the fairground) but that it may have been the wrong play for the company. One critic compared its humour to that of the film Dumb and Dumber.

She said: "Whether it's a good piece or whether it wasn't a critics' piece, perhaps it wasn't the best choice to launch this company with. Maybe it was just a bit too bold for their first production."

She also suggested that given the expectations surrounding Scamp, Mendes probably should have directed the first play himself. "Almost all the reviewers talked more about Sam Mendes than Angus Jackson," she said.

Paddock added: "But they have got some really interesting things coming up and it is reassuring that a commercial company like Scamp is investing in new writing. I hope this doesn't put them off."

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