Shopping and Fucking – Review

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The first time around Mark Ravenhill’s brash entree into playwrighting, his first full-length play, a sedate affair called Shopping and Fucking (asterisks optional,) caused a stir.

The title, obviously, made people sit up, but, more than that there was simulated sex, violence, drugs..oh and Take That.

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Pardon me for being incredibly slow on the uptake but it wasn’t until I sat down to write this review of the play’s 20th anniversary revival, which opened on Wednesday at the Lyric Hammersmith, that it dawned on me what an influence the pop group had been on Ravenhill. So much so that he named three of his protagonists Mark, Gary and Robbie and called the fourth Lulu (but don’t Shout about that).

It wasn’t, in any way, a compliment. Back in 1996, when the play first premiered, the band were breaking up for the first time. They had been entirely manufactured and engineered by their manager to be a money-making machine and it looked like they had reached their sell-by date.

It’s my age. Sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in. That’s why I walked away from the Lyric in somewhat of a daze after being bludgeoned by lights, noise, and a story that scared the life out of me.

It wasn’t the karaoke, or the drug-taking, or even the sex. It was Ravenhill’s bleak, prescient, vision of a future where commercialism was god. That everything, including life, love and liberty, was available at a price, and that there seemed no humanity left in a society numbed by 24-hour porn, internet violence and shopping channels.

Director Sean Holmes has a price tag on everything that appears on stage – including the cast’s outfits. He even squeezed extra cash out of the first night audience by getting them to pay extra for badges and then duped a pair to stump up for “upgraded” seats on stage.

Then the “ushers” came on stage, stripped off, and started performing.

Nothing about this show is safe. It leaves you numb with the sure knowledge that now we are living the dream – and it has turned into a nightmare.

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Mark, while out shopping one day, spots a young couple going cheap in the sale aisle, along with the frozen peas and a packet of Mars Bars.

They’re £20, a bargain. Lulu, a wannabe actress, whiney, gobby and accommodating and Robbie, a bit of a drifter, go home with him to be used and accommodated – a bit like a new kettle – until Mark, who is incapable of emotional attachment, decides he’s had enough.

No more drugs. He wants to get clean. A brief spell in rehab and he later finds himself mail-order shopping. This time it’s a young rent boy called Gary.

David Moorst breaks your heart as Gary. Sexually abused as a child Gary now searches for another man who will carry on the torture which is the only form of affection he knows or understands.

It’s harrowing listening to him pleading for gross-out violent sex. And, as we learn more about him, you can’t help but be shocked at the terrible price to pay for living in a society which as lost its ability to feel or care.

While Sam Spruell’s Mark spouts psycho babble and ponders what to do with his new plaything, Lulu and Robbie fall into the clutches of Brian.

Ashley McGuire, as Brian is the stuff of nightmares. She’s terrifying. A god-like presence who strong-arms the couple into selling £3,000-worth of ecstasy tablets. And when they lose the product they have to resort to online sex to reclaim the cash.

The inevitable conclusion to this excess of Shopping and Fucking isn’t an overt display of optimism – even if it does end in a few bars of Take That.

In a world where emotion, love and life seem to have been trampled under by the rush to get a bargain or indulge in the next quickie, “no-strings-attached relationship, Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking appears to have been way ahead of its time – and I’m not sure that is something to celebrate.

Shopping and Fucking plays at the Lyric, Hammersmith, until November 3.

Review Rating
  • Shopping and Fucking
3

Summary

Depressingly relevant 20 years after it first caused waves in British Theatre. Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking makes uneasy watching.

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