Chocolate Menier Factory Theatre
5 September 2014
It’s the basement of a salubrious restaurant in New York. The phones hardly ever stop ringing. Seats are very hard to get, even for the glitterati. There is an intercom system too, directly linking the switchboard operators to both the kitchen and the maître d’. The chef, an irascible, gravel-voiced profanity-spewing tyrant has a red “bat phone” there, down which he can thunder commands.
An out-of-work actor, desperate for his first true break, a constant attendee at auditions and callbacks, works the switchboard. He is sweet, charming, funny and extraordinarily harassed, by his missing boss, his tyrannical chef, the personalities from the kitchen and the floor, and the constant stream of those who seek reservations or want to speak to the Chef. His mother has recently died and he is uncertain he can afford to go home for Christmas to be with his father especially as he is rostered on to work those holidays.
This haphazard and often hilarious set-up is the foundation for Becky Mode’s Fully Committed now playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory, ten years after the premiere UK production of the piece played there. It’s directed by Mark Setlock who played the actor, Sam, in that original production.
The trick with the piece, really it’s only interesting feature, is that all of the characters encountered are played by one person. In this revival, that solo performer is Kevin Bishop.
Bishop is immensely charming, with a great comic sense and the ability to twist and turn on a needlepoint. He has a great singing voice to boot and the capacity to mimic expertly: his Michael Caine is astonishingly good.
He also mines the weariness of the character, the sense of frustration and rivalry with his actor best friend, and the poignant obligations with which his mother’s death has burdened him. He ranges effortlessly from broad, ridiculous comedy (usually complete with silly faces and sillier voices) to gentle moments of pathos or insightful expressions of chagrin or disappointment.
The writing is twenty minutes too long, but there is no denying that Bishop is worth the evening. Indeed, his skill is so clear, so wide-ranging, that it is surprising that West End producers don’t call on him more often when they need an actor who can sing.
If you like to laugh, the Chocolate Menier Factory Theatre awaits!