Shopping and Fucking

Theatre, Experimental
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Mark Ravenhill's shocking debut play revived in a headachey new production from Sean Holmes

‘Shopping and Fucking’ is more than a brilliant name. Mark Ravenhill’s 1996 debut is one of the key works of ’90s theatre, a scathing, semi-abstract satire on the transformation of human relationships from the emotional to the transactional.

Written before the internet was meaningfully a thing, it feels almost supernaturally applicable to our plugged-in, technologised, insta-gratifcation age and is ripe for an incisive revival. But instead, Lyric boss Sean Holmes seems to be going through what one might call his Bez phase: his OTT production smacks into the play like a Global Hypercolor iceberg.

Lulu (Sophie Wu) and Robbie (Alex Arnold) have been ‘bought’ by Mark (Sam Spruell), who in turn buys the services of young rent boy Gary (David Moorst), while the couple must also prostitute themselves to pay a debt to the loquacious, menacing Brian (Ashley McGuire, superb). Emotions have been replaced by transaction: you pay for sex, you pay for companionship, you pay for drugs, you pay to feel. Nobody is sentimental, though some people are starting to fray at the edges as feelings of loneliness and abandonment bubble away beneath the façades. 

There’s a few violent ’90s Brit theatre clichés in there, but it’s aged well. But what the hell to make of Holmes’s frenetically maximalist production, which sets the action in a faux TV studio, ladles on flourish after flourish – karaoke interludes, audience interaction, having the cast try and sell us stuff – and kind of makes the whole thing come across as some sort of acid-drenched collision of ‘The Word’ and the QVC shopping channel? I struggled with it, a lot: whatever the rationale behind each individual innovation, the cumulative effect is incredibly distracting. Having the cast flog us tat feels clangingly obvious, it’s awkwardly handled and slows the show down something rotten. I was very dubious about Holmes’s sneery use of pop classics – the suggestion that music is as hollow as shopping and fucking is certainly not a point Ravenhill ever tries to make. And generally it’s just far far too busy (which may be the point – these people’s lives are filled with frenetic doing but little feeling – but there comes a point where it simply starts obfuscating the play). 

‘Shopping and Fucking’ deserves a twentieth-anniversary revival. I’m not sure it deserves to be a guinea pig for Sean Holmes’s ’90s fixation. But then again, treating this play sensitively would perhaps be missing the point. 

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