Tag Archives: Kevin Bishop

“Lady Windermere’s Fan” at the Vaudeville Theatre

The estimable Kathy Burke is an expert in comedy. Wearing her director’s hat for Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play, her feel for laughs is instinctual: she makes the most heavily quoted of aphorisms light and the whole evening fun. In a cast of big guns, national treasure Jennifer Saunders is the star and has the audience laughing at every turn. Despite a small role, Saunders fans won’t be disappointed. A front of cloth song, written for her by Burke, is the funniest three minutes in a theatre that you can imagine.

Saunders is a good enough actress to know she’s not the lead; her role as the Duchess of Berwick is to show the follies of society and, channelling a previous performance in the much underrated Let Them Eat Cake, she is brilliant at this. The leads are Grace Molony as the moral Lady Windermere and the always excellent Samantha Spiro as the mannered Mrs Erlynne – a woman “with a past before her” –  captivating society despite scandal, and adding drama to attempts at reclaiming respectability.

Grace Molony and Samantha Spiro
Grace Molony and Samantha Spiro

This trio of performers alone makes this a show that celebrates women. And there are some strong performances from the men in the play, too: Kevin Bishop plays the rakish Lord Darlington with passion, and Joseph Marcell gives a first-rate comic turn. But Burke reminds us how strong Wilde’s writing for female roles is – how he treated them with a fairness, if not an equality, far beyond his time. The respect extends to smaller roles for women: Natasha Magigi has a lovely cameo. And Burke makes sure even a maid gets a personality here. There’s a struggle with our titular character, the lesson she has to learn – and the protection those close to her insist on ­– are so dated that she is hard to connect to. But, as Lady Windermere herself says, she is “behind the age” – we are supposed to feel unsatisfied with her, and her development is captured adroitly by Molony.

Most impressive is the production’s treatment of the play’s histrionic moments. We cannot be shocked in the way Wilde expected, although it’s easy to see that the drama and comedy would have been more violently contrasted in his day. But, in keeping with this season of his plays, masterminded by Dominic Dromgoole, we can still see Wilde as a radical. Burke has a clear appreciation of how he played with the theatrical melodramas of his age. There’s a brilliant scene with the burning of a plot-turning letter, and the ironies of family history don’t deserve a spoiler. Wilde was having fun with conventions – Burke follows his lead, and fun is what you’ll have too with this clever revival.

Until 7 April 2018


Photos by Marc Brenner

“Fully Committed” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

A most disappointing show at the usually excellent Menier Chocolate Factory, Fully Committed by Becky Mode is a comedy set in a successful restaurant. In America, Mode’s play was as big a hit as the restaurant she bases it in, which is booked out – fully committed in the chef’s jargon. If you’re a VIP or willing to bend the rules, you can get a table. As for getting a theatre ticket, only bother if you want something very light.

Forefront at the battle for a restaurant reservation is our hero Sam, who mans the phones and deals with the frankly freakish clientele. Kevin Bishop is on the stage alone, performing not just as Sam but all the callers he answers the phone to and the staff he communicates with via intercom. It’s a neat, simple idea, perfect for a one man show and entertaining enough, but there’s little substance here; in fact it’s so thin, it’s anorexic.

Worse than the lack of plot, Fully Committed is lazy. Not Bishop’s performance, which is highly energetic and pleases the crowd, or Mark Setlock’s direction which is clear and precise, but the text lacks surprises and has poor characterisation. The snobbery and pretention at the restaurant can all be predicted, as can any small amounts of satire. There’s an authentic feel, in fact I suspect it could have been more exaggerated, but this is in-joke for out of work actors or those that dine out expensively.

A good sitcom will provide considerable emotional investment in its characters – such interest is lacking in Fully Committed. Sam is as weakly written as the people on the other end of the phone line – likeable, just about, but simply not interesting enough. Sam becomes more confident when he might get an acting job; he even becomes rude to the obnoxious chef. Oh, and he gets to go home for Christmas… but that’s all.

The humour comes from Bishop who is skilled and switches accents with speed. But these are impersonations, some of them good and the quantity certainly impressive, but many just silly voices. There are laughs but nothing that stays with you and an over-reliance on racial stereotypes that’s a little tasteless. So while it’s impressive that the phone calls keep coming, there’s little momentum, nothing to get your teeth into and very little bite.

Until 15 November 2014