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Ever done a job you hate so much that visits to the toilet are the highlight? Jen Brister (BBC 6 Music) and Clare Warde (Touch Me I'm Karen Taylor BBC3 & Laura Ben and Him ITV2) aren’t pursuing their dream, instead their sorting the post. Join them struggling with the switchboard whilst fantasising about what they ‘should’ be doing.
On the face of it, the premise for Reception reads like another post-Office reality-com about the humdrum realities of abandoning your dreams for a secure but monotonous 9-5 job.
But from this simple starting-point, comics Jen Brister and Clare Warde have created not just some astute character comedy, but a knockabout carnival of bold sketches, surreal ideas and cheeky banter.
The finished product may be uneven, but their ambition is high and they are charismatic, relaxed performers with the sort of easy chemistry that marks any great comedy partnership.
Clare – they haven’t been too imaginative in naming the characters – is an elegant, prim and proper woman, but passive-aggressive in conflict. She aspires to be an actress, despite a well-deserved lack of confidence in her own abilities, but still tries to do her best in her mundane receptionist’s job. Jen, in contrast, has the listless, sarcastic grumpiness of the directionless, and is more blatant with her aggression.
These two colleagues can barely stand each other until, in a hilariously over-emphasised plot point, they become locked in the building overnight, creating a nocturnal, otherworldly atmosphere not unlike the cult Channel 4 sitcom Nightingales, which was set in a similar situation. And it leads to some claustrophobic, revelatory, and often bizarre conversations that sometimes sprawl out into daft sketches.
In the more straightforward dialogue, they ponder what constrained their ambition, leaving them to languish in admin at the Royal Society of Radiology. But they also wander off into fantasy sequences, slapstick set pieces and comically bad raps and dances – not to mention the funniest dead pet since the Norwegian Blue.
There are hits and misses, and a few scenes outstay their welcome, but the best moments tend to be when the confident Brister unleashes a larger-than-life performance, overacting and pantomiming her way through silly material with a real sense of glee. She certainly gets more of a chance than the more buttoned-down Warde to flaunt her acting abilities, and when she lets rip, her spirit is infectious.
Both, however, succumb to the temptation play freely with the script; and their grip is sure to loosen even more as the run goes on. It should be encouraged, too, as it lends an engaging gang-show atmosphere to the show which could never be emulated with disciplined performance.
There may still be some bumps in the tone and the quality of the show, but overall it represents an assured debut for Brister and Warde as a double-act. Expect bigger things.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
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