Debit or Credit. Paper or Plastic. Sex or Drugs.
When who we are and what we do has been reduced to a transaction, the receipt on our commercialized life is Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and F*cking. A social-analytic play on the destructiveness of sado-masochistic tendencies, we meet four forlorn and corrupted characters surviving day-by-day in a world where drugs and sex are their only currency.
Mark, a former stockbroker and recovering junkie, searches for true human emotion untainted by substance abuse. Gary, a teenage prostitute with a history of sexual abuse, can’t help but become addicted to Mark to fill his fix of daddy issues. Robbie, Mark’s ex, rings up a string of drug debt nearly impossible to pay, and Lulu, the token best friend, turns to selling ecstasy just to see her share of green. And rounding out this merry band of stragglers is Brian who plays the entrepreneurial conscious of this play explaining that the key to living is, you guessed it, money.
Co-produced by the Royal Court Theatre and Out of Joint, Shopping and F*cking was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in London on September 26th, 1996. Ravenhill’s first full-length play, it was at the forefront of a new theatre movement within the United Kingdom led by Sarah Kane known as In-Yer-Face Theatre. Kane, most known for her violently sexual piece BLASTED, revolutionized the concept of conflict and made it alarmingly confrontational for the audience as well as the characters. So it’s no wonder that playwrights like Kane and Ravenhill found sanctuary in theatre as a staging ground for presenting dystopian black humor that reflected their beliefs of an increasingly aggressive society.
As to be expected, the ’96 premiere of Shopping and F*cking garnered reviews of all colors and language. Not the play’s biggest fan, John Heilpern for the Observer commented, “The gutter is currently the hip place to be in the theater.” Meanwhile Matt Wolf over at Variety tried finding neutral territory claiming the piece to be “an irredeemably sad portrait of a rudderless, even ruthless generation.” But for Paul Taylor at the Independent, a rather supportive critic, he concluded, “For the strong of stomach, though, there’s the chance to see a real talent at work here.”
Daring to question if morality has been superseded by business, Ravenhill’s work continues to challenge a society today that struggles to find an answer. But regardless of ideology, it’s safe to assume this salaciously entitled exploration into the materialistic yet disposable culture of consumerism will continue to turn heads for better or for worse.
September 26, 1996
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
Lulu: Kate Ashfield
Robbie: Andrew Clover
Mark: James Kennedy
Gary: Antony Ryding
Brian: Robin Soans
Directed by Max Stafford-Clark (Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre 1979-1993, Founder of the Out of Joint touring company 1993)
Designed by Julian McGowan
Lighting by Johanna Town
Sound by Paul Arditti