Backstage comedies and musicals are commonplace - we all like to know what goes behind-the-scenes of the makings of theatre. That same curiosity for another hidden world also fuels Fully Committed and its behind-the-scenes portrait of the telephone reservations room of a busy Manhattan restaurant.
Playwright Becky Mode and actor Mark Setlock, who originally performed it in its 1999 off-Broadway premiere and co-created its hilarious repertoire of characters, turn the apparently mundane telephone traffic into a riotous one-act comedy, effortlessly segueing between the endless succession of callers seeking a table there and the chef, maitre d' and other staff who are also demanding the attention of Sam, the reservations clerk who is an out-of-work actor (and whose personal and professional lives also occasionally intrude in his work day, with calls from his lonely dad and to his impossible-to-reach agent).
Setlock recreated his off-Broadway performance in the show's British premiere 10 years ago that was the second in-house show at the Menier Chocolate Factory and its first to subsequently transfer to the West End (there have been a dozen more transfers since then, including the current Forbidden Broadway). Now he is on hand to diligently direct Kevin Bishop in the role. Bishop, a comedian who has had his own comedy sketch show on Channel 4, must feel in safe hands being directed by someone who has himself played the role, as it is no easy task: he has to single-handedly populate a vast array of characters - and simultaneously relay both sides of the conversation.
Bishop's timing is immaculate and his charm utterly effortless as he delivers this monologue of many voices at break-neck speed and with seamless shifts between characters. But it's more than just a sketch show but a fully realised narrative in which all the various strands of characters eventually knit up into a satisfying dramatic arc.
That it concerns such trivialities as Naomi Campbell's desire for a particular kind of lighting over her table (her assistant offers to send someone over with the appropriate bulbs) and other celebrity obsessions suggests it portrays a shallow world. But in fact the play cuts surprisingly deep with its fully-realised view of a man desperately trying to juggle competing balls that, as in the best farces, are threatening to fall together.
It may also make you spare a thought for the person at the other end of a phone line of any call centre. But most of all, it will make you laugh - sometimes heartlessly, sometimes uproariously - throughout.
"Kevin Bishop delivers a brilliantly funny tour de force, like some berserk high precision identity crisis as he does all the voices of the maniacally entitled folk who ring up – from Naomi Campell's coked up Aussie aide to the society dowager who demands, as of natural right, 'first slot on the VIP Priority Waiting List'."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"The result is a thunderously funny show that doesn’t have anything startling to say but provides 70 minutes of dizzy entertainment."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press