Review of Shopping and Fucking at the Lyric Hammersmith

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    Friday, October 14, 2016
    Review by:

    The selling begins before the play has even started. Cast members roam the dramatically reconfigured auditorium trying to sell badges and merchandise whilst flogging a special offer for a seat upgrade to one lucky couple to enjoy the action up close. Fluorescent sales tags hang off everything, from stage properties to pieces of costume, hammering home Ravenhill's idea that life is but one transaction after another, and the value of money comes before human feelings.

    This emphasis on the first half of the explosive title may not be the most shocking aspect of the drama, but it's certainly the most powerful, and has been ramped up in this 20th anniversary production to reflect the digital age. Mark, Robbie, Gary and Lulu (the deliberate Take That reference cementing the piece as a product of the 90s) are trapped in a consumerist dystopia that becomes a blur of drugs, sex, raves and violence. Unable to connect with each other in a meaningful way they struggle to fit in with a society that values commodities above people, with base emotions being reduced to mere transactions.

    It's sexually charged from the outset yet maintains a distance and innocence that knowingly reduces this physical act to nothing more than a base decision, from scenes of analingus to forced sex removed and detached from emotion and presented in a purely transactional form. Famed for its place amongst the 'in-yer-face' theatre of the 90s, this new production is certainly no easy watch, and whilst it grounds its political message within its original context, it holds a cruel mirror up to our 2016 world that in many ways has become further distorted by the developments and ease of consumerism.

    Sean Holmes stages the drama on a multi-media film set that requires a coin in the meter in order to kick start the action, signalling the direction in which it will continue to free fall. He uses green screen technology and multiple cameras to project, distort and embellish situations such as Lulu and Robbie being forced to perform simulated sex acts in order to repay a drug debt. It certainly works on an aesthetic level and helps heighten the emotional detachment between the characters, yet it overshadows some of the smaller moments that get lost somewhere in the noise.

    It's furiously busy, frustratingly messy and dramatically uneven, yet its basic message is hammered home with perhaps too much style over substance. There's little time to invest in the characters on the page, and the production threatens to reduce them even further so that there's no time to connect or empathise with their delivery.

    Ashley McGuire gives the strongest performance as drug dealer Brian who freely paraphrases 'The Lion King' whilst holding the moral weight and answers to the questions that the play kicks up. Backed by a (lacklustre) gospel choir she commands the stage and tells the group that lessons have been learnt, and with it civilisation.

    The production displays strong technical achievement from all departments with Jon Basusor and Tal Rosner's design executed particularly well with efficient stage management which becomes absorbed into the performative aspect of the production that smashes the fourth wall and implicates us as an audience in the entire message, something which becomes the production's greatest strength. At times it's hard to watch yet difficult to look away, and that's entirely the point of both Ravenhill's text and Holmes' scenography. Moments of realisation from each of the characters don't force on the breaks, instead they propel them further down the rabbit hole from which there is no way out. As an audience, we do the same – I left the theatre feeling dirty, but before I'd even realised I had ordered the script on Amazon Prime it was too late to see that I am implicitly part of the problem.

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