Mark Ravehill’s first full-length play, Shopping and F**king made it’s debut in 1996 at the Royal Court Upstairs, before embarking on national and international tours. When first produced Shopping and F**king received mixed reviews due to it’s themes of sexual violence, including a depiction of underage male rape. While more positive reviews commented on the play’s black humour and Marxist convictions. At its core, Ravenhill’s Shopping and F**king explores what could be possible if consumerism dominated over all other moral codes. Everything from sexual encounters, drugs, shoplifting and violence are treated as nondescript transactions in an age where consumerism is seen as a religion and shopping centres are a place of worship.
In the tradition of This Is England and anything written by Irvine Welsh, Shopping and F**king is a wonderful example of 90’s in-yer-face British theatre. I first stumbled upon Shopping and F**king while at drama school. I was scouring the school library to find something that looked modern and the title of Ravenhill’s play screamed gloriously at me from beside the usual Shakespeare and Ibsen selections. Now twenty years old, Olivier Award winner Sean Holmes directs a new production of Shopping and F**king at the Lyric Hammersmith and I finally have a chance to see a production of this rarely staged play.
Shopping and F**king’s character names are taken from the performers of 1993 hit-single (remember CD singles?) Relight My Fire; Mark, Robbie and Gary of Take That fame and Scottish singer-actor Lulu OBE. In this production, Sam Spruell plays ‘Mark’, Alex Arnold as ‘Robbie’, Sophie Wu is ‘Lulu’, David Moorst plays ‘Gary’ with Ashley McGuire is ‘Brian’. Spruell gives a convincing performance as broken, emotionally damaged, drug addicted ‘Mark’. ‘Mark’s inability to form an emotional connection and treat his encounters as transactions was so effective I found him unlikeable. I’m not sure the audience is supposed to like any of the characters in Shopping and Fucking; so with this in mind, a very commendable performance. Desperate for life and love, ‘Robbie’ and ‘Lulu’ are lost and wrapped up in an emotionally abusive relationship with unstable ‘Mark’ where manipulation substitutes for love. During my life it seems I’ve met countless ‘Robbie’s’ and ‘Lulu’s’ and I really believed Alex Arnold and Sophie Wu’s broken and beaten portrayals. As youthful ‘Gary’ David Moorst shines.[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”68″ gal_title=”Shopping and F***ing Production Images”]
Moorst’s outward energy was a welcome contrast to the bleak inward energy given by the other characters. Moorst drew the audience into each and every moment ‘Gary’ was onstage and due to this I found his performance to be the most effecting which made his story all the more tragic. Now it’s not very often I’m unnerved by a character, but that’s exactly how I felt with Ashley McGuire’s performance of drug-lord ‘Brian’. ‘Brian’ gives desperate ‘Lulu’ a job selling drugs and when ‘Robbie’ drops and gives away the entire stash, threatens to kill the two unless they can pay back the £3000 owed. Proving that “money is civilisation”, she then gives back the £3000 after the two went to traumatising lengths to get it. Even describing the events of a well-loved musical animation film about large cats in the Savanna, McGuire’s warped and totally depraved ‘Brian’ owned the stage and forcefully commanded the attention of the audience in each appearance.
Jon Bausor and Tal Rosner’s design was simple and extremely effective. A green screen, live video feed and a series of screens projected a close up and extremely intimate Shopping and F**king. Clever use of green screen graphics saw the world of the play burst open and dragged to life in bright colour. A transparent box at the front of the stage acted as a money box, moving the play along when coins were placed in it and two on-stage seats were ironically sold at the start of the show adding to the ‘everything can be bought’ theme.
While Shopping and F**king suffers a little from age, the play still packs a powerful punch, raises lots of questions and will be talked about for years to come. In a western culture filled with #firstworldproblems and Kayne West designed kicks, Ravenhill’s twenty year old play is still fiercely relevant. The Lyric Hammersmith production offers affordable ticket prices and encompasses Ravenhill’s text in an effective and engaging way to speak to a modern audience.
Reviewed by Stuart James
Photos: Helen Murray
SHOPPING AND F***ING plays at Lyric Hammersmith until Saturday 05 November 2016. Tickets