sat 20/07/2019

Fully Committed, Menier Chocolate Factory | reviews, news & interviews

Fully Committed, Menier Chocolate Factory

Fully Committed, Menier Chocolate Factory

Revived one-man show serves up a smorgasbord of comic treats

Harassed restaurant switchboard operator Sam (Kevin Bishop) reaches boiling pointCatherine Ashmore

If Chiltern Firehouse is any indication, power in our society lies not in bank balance, postcode or job title, but in being seen nibbling crab doughnuts at the hottest restaurant in town. Becky Mode’s merciless skewering of that particular ego trip first delighted the discerning palates of Menier Chocolate Factory audiences in 2004 and makes a welcome return for the theatres 10th anniversary, now directed by original star and creative collaborator Mark Setlock. He and Mode both did time in pretentious Big Apple eateries, Setlock answering phones and Mode waiting tables – hellish experiences, evidently, but now transformed into deliciously scathing comic fare.

Sam (Kevin Bishop) is a cash-strapped wannabe actor with no romantic prospects and an agent efficiently ducking his calls. His day job involves taking reservations for a swanky New York restaurant, operating out of a stifling, grubby basement – decidedly at the bottom of the food chain. Left in the lurch by skiving colleagues, he spends an increasingly nightmarish day trying to keep multiple plates spinning as he dances between the switchboard, intercom to the restaurant and kitchen upstairs, and ominous red phone that receives continuous orders from the posturing, micro-managing, megalomaniac chef.

Fully Committed, Menier Chocolate FactoryHe, too, is played by Bishop (right), as are somewhere around 40 other characters. It’s a dazzling tour de force, the virtuoso solo equivalent of Stones in His Pockets or The 39 Steps. Admittedly, many are given a mere (broadly stereotyped) cameo, and neither supporting roles nor burgeoning subplots are developed enough for truly satisfying drama. Those reservations aside, it’s hard not to relish Mode’s tantalising tasting menu, which so brilliantly evokes the complex hierarchies and seething competitiveness of this arena, with its overlapping spheres of jealously guarded influence.

Tireless Bishop channels character after character like a feverish medium during séance rush hour. Star dishes include Sam’s obnoxious, fibbing colleague Bob; faux-buddy and fellow aspiring actor Jerry; condescending, name-dropping socialite Bunny Vandervelde; a spine-tingling reptilian Brit, determined to bribe his way in; squawking, blithe kitchen worker Oscar; the formidable editor of Gourmet magazine and her weeping assistant; fastidious maître d’ Jean-Claude, fending off dogged caller Carol-Ann Rosenstein-Fishburn; and, topping the specials, Naomi Campbell’s coke-fuelled Aussie agent Bryce, spluttering outlandish diva demands between wheezes of deranged laughter.

The farce is heightened by inevitable miscommunications and looming disasters, including a sick customer and the unexpected appearance of Mr Zagat himself, and there’s a soupçon of poignancy in Sam trying to make it home for Christmas with his recently widowed father, which feeds his frustration at the powerlessness of his position. When Sam eventually becomes corrupted by his environment and begins to play the same game as everyone else, it’s hard not to cheer, even as you watch the gulf widen between his more ruthless incarnation and oh-so-nice suburban family.

This is a devastating dissection of the insecurity and pettiness at the heart of cosmopolitan entitlement – “fully committed” is affected lingo for “fully booked”, and the fear of being left out is pervasive, lurking behind the uproarious laughs. Comedy doesn’t get tougher than this.

Bishop channels character after character like a feverish medium during séance rush hour

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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