I've grown tired of the kind of multi-character solo show that seems less concerned with narrative or thematic matters than with showing off the range of characters the performer can do and the deftness with which they can switch between them. It was a surprise, then, to find myself less than enthused at first by Mark Setlock's performance precisely because it lacked such ostentation. He has the breadth and the turn-on-a-dime skills, but I felt that he wasn't sufficiently flagging up the various characters.
This, it turns out, is part of the strategy of Setlock and Becky Mode's play (they created the characters together based on their own restaurant-temping experiences, she wrote, he performs). As "resting" actor Sam mans the reservation phone line at a swanky Manhattan restaurant, all we hear at first is the blare of numerous callers, a few seconds at a time, all trying to persuade him to find a table for them on a "fully committed" evening.
Over the course of 80 minutes, two things happen to our perception. Firstly, we grow familiar with recurring characters: Naomi Campbell's assistant Bryce, who keeps ringing back with new requests, ranging from a vegan menu for fifteen to suitably flattering lighting; a more successful actor friend who has just landed a job in a haemorrhoid cream commercial and calls to rub Sam's nose in it, so to speak; the snotty chef who barks peremptory commands down a special hotline, and so on. The second thing is that we grow accustomed to the economy of Setlock's delineation of character. There's little of the twirling or florid gesturing that often marks out this territory: a mere change of vocal register or tilt of the head is often enough, and the patter of Mode's script is so rapid-fire that any more effort on Setlock's part would be exhausting.
Fully Committed has been a hit since its first New York appearance in 1999, and proved a word-of-mouth sensation on its summer London run at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Dramatically, it's on the flimsy side, but it's not the kind of show where you look for majesty or profundity. It's a slow-burning joy. And even Gordon Ramsay crops up as one of Setlock's characters, briefly yet characteristically fruitily.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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