Fully Committed – Menier Chocolate Factory

It’s not often I’ll give a standing ovation.  But last night’s performance of Fully Committed fully deserved one – for various reasons.

Sam (Kevin Bishop) is an out-of-work actor working the phones in the reservations office at the hottest restaurant in NYC. When he’s not playing musical tables trying to accomodate (or fob off) the relentless string of phone calls from Sheikhs, celebrities and senior citizens, he’s getting it in the neck from his colleagues, trying to salvage his flagging acting career and find time to talk to his recently bereaved father. Only Kevin is playing every single one of these characters (a ballpark guess of 30ish?) at the other end of the phone or intercom as a one-man whirlwind of vocal chameleonship.

Kevin Bishop.  Photo by Alastair Muir.

Kevin Bishop. Photo by Alastair Muir.

It took me a couple of minutes to get used to the style of the play (it is a man on a stage putting on lots of different voices).  New characters are introduced in a very haphazard order – some fleeting, some more recurrent – each individual and with distinctive body language. There are points where it’s incredibly funny yet the audience are silent because we’re listening so intently to try to keep track of who’s who. Eventually it becomes safe to laugh without worrying you’re going to miss something crucial.  But once we’ve got used to the melee of voices and mannerisms, something as simple as a facial expression or a change of posture will tell you who’s just called.

It’s one hell of a juggling act – flitting between a plethora of nationalities, ages, genders and personalities.  Everyone from his disdainful French boss (Jean-Claude) to a coke-addled Australian (Bryce) to his ageing father.  It has the illusion of being utter chaos, whilst being very slick and well-timed.  The relentless maelstrom of calls threatens to overwhelm Sam – in those nanoseconds between answering each line, there is a flicker of a man who hates his job and is about to crack under the pressure, but it’s the only thing bringing in any money and keeping a roof over his head.  It’s amazing how much you can glean about Sam’s life and background in the gaps between some very well observed caricatures.

So why the standing ovation?  The performance alone pushes to the limits what can be achieved by one person on a stage – but in addition to this, the evening was slightly marred by a drunk woman in the audience trying to chat to her partner during the show.  Initially I thought she’d realise and settle down, but In the middle of a particularly tangled exchange of characters, she had become very disruptive and ushers came in to physically eject her from the theatre – in a venue as small as the Menier, there was no option but for the show to pause.  She did not go quietly.  When staff had finally taken her out the door, Kevin Bishop took a moment to gather himself and launched straight back into the jumble of voices as though nothing had happened.  Sheer brilliance.

(Thanks must also go to the staff of the Menier Chocolate Factory for their actions – there was the potential for the rest of the show to be ruined, but it was handled very well).

Fully Committed is on until Saturday 15th November 2014 at The Menier Chocolate Factory, 53 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1RU.  For tickets and more information, click here.

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