If Mark Ravenhill’s cryptic ‘Show 6’, which just premiered at the Summerhall, is the playwright at his most obtusely experimental, then this ferocious revival of 2005’s monologue ‘Product’ is a reminder of how thrilling his work can be with a mainstream sensibility applied to it.
When it premiered at the Traverse in 2005, it was Ravenhill himself playing the speaker, a Hollywood producer hawking an increasingly bizarre and offensive romantic thriller script to a female actor. I didn’t see the show, but I imagine Ravenhill’s droll acting style would have put the words centre stage: the unfurling of the hypnotically awful script to ‘Mohammed and Me’, which concerns a 9/11 widow who meets a muslim man on a flight, falls in love with him and, er, joins Al Quaeda at his behest.
The words remain key to Robert Shaw’s brisk revival, but it also boasts an absolutely killer performance from actor Olivia Poulet as the producer, here named Leah. Posh, poised and luvvie-ish, she conveys both the monstrousness and the fragility of Leah, whose smooth patter, easy sycophancy and asides like ‘we’ve got Gucci onboard’, ‘we’ve got Versace onboard’ belie the fact she is obviously terrified of this pitch failing.
If the script itself is like one enormous, sucking spiritual vacuum, then you sense that Leah knows this but is desperately forcing herself to choke this shit down, page by page. She reminded me a little of Jessica Hynes’s unflappable dimwit PR in ‘2012’ and ‘W1A’, except you can see the fear in Poulet’s eyes, the sort of existential dread of a woman who knows that if she stopped for one second to really interrogate what she was doing, she’d find her whole life worthless. The sense is heightened by the fact that there's no actor on stage to play the starlet (which there was in 2005), Poulet is simply babbling to empty air.
Like a lot of Ravenhill’s work, I think perhaps ‘Product’ is more about how we will ourselves to believe certain narratives than it is literally about Hollywood. Whatever you take from it, it’s funny, cutting and brilliantly performed, and ends on a curiously exhilarating note, as ‘Mohammed and Me’ collapses under the weight of its own crapness and turns into something weirdly radical.
By Andrzej Lukowski