ONE-hit wonders are ten a penny. Some vanish into sheer oblivion while others like The Mentor’s passé playwright Benjamin Rubin capitalise on their five minutes of fame for the rest of their life.

Capitalise is the operative word here. He may still bask in the reflected glory of long ago success but the royalties from his one and only masterpiece, The Long Road, are no longer enough to fund his luxurious lifestyle and two sets of alimony.

As Daniel Kehlmann’s rapier-like play opens, the cantankerous and cash-poor writer has reluctantly agreed to mentor Martin Wegner, a rising literary star heralded by the press as “the voice of his generation" for a handsome €10,000 fee. His overblown sense of grandeur takes a hard knock when he discovers minutes into their encounter that Martin has been paid the same amount for the ‘privilege’ of his insights.

In a dilapidated art nouveau villa, somewhere in the German countryside, the two massive egos are set on a collision course. Rubin wastes no time in savaging Martin’s abstract and surreal work in progress – whether out of puerile jealousy, disdain or genuine distaste is never ascertained – thrusting the already insecure author down a cataclysmic spiral. Meanwhile an increasingly dejected Martin retaliates by slating his ‘has-been’ foe’s failure to follow up on his acclaimed play.

Academy-award winner F. Murray Abraham is every bit the pedantic and deeply frustrated writer, craving recognition and in love with the sound of his own voice. Far from turning Rubin into a pathetic caricature, the actor injects surprising vim and tremendous humour and cheek into the role. True to Kehlmann’s incisive wit and cutting lines, he dives in full pelt. Dialling up Rubin’s silly affectations, he blissfully lays bare his foibles while imbuing him with slivers of pathos and even a hint of self-derision.

Daniel Weyman is the veteran thesp’s match in every way as doubt-riddled Martin. Lurching between arrogance and despondency, he simultaneously loathes his obnoxious mentor and yearns for his approval. Choosing a garden (overrun by frogs) as the set, which incidentally neither writer can abide, cleverly highlights the striking parallels between these seemingly opposite characters.

Director Laurence Boswell and his ballsy cast pull off a lively exploration of the legacy and pitfalls of fame (no matter how brief). The Mentor is a hugely entertaining yet wonderfully nuanced romp.

The Mentor runs at the Ustinov Theatre in Bath until May 6. - Marion Sauvebois