Shopping and F***ing

Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and F***ing is one of the most controversial British plays of the 90s due to its brutal sexual violence and dark humour. Theatre company About Turn attack the text with a raw energy that never hides from the play’s bleak outlook.We follow Mark and his destructive relationship with odd couple Robbie and Lulu and his encounters with a troubled teenage male prostitute. Meanwhile, Robbie and Lulu get themselves into a world of trouble with their adventures, becoming amateur drug dealers.This is a grungy take on Ravenhill’s play, from the minimalist set to the grubby costumes that, suitably, look like these characters have been wearing them for years. There are some unbearably dark moments within this performance that will have audience members squirming in their seats, so be warned - if you are easily shocked then this will not be the show for you.Finding the right balance between the shocks and the naturalism of a piece of theatre like this is a very delicate procedure that the company almost manage. Some moments seem a little too stilted and jar with the flow of the piece. An example would be the full-frontal nudity that seems to put a halt to a scene rather than drive it forward. The performance also requires a better use of space as important moments can seem to become boxed up in a corner with little room for the actors to move and too often actors play their dialogue out to the audience. Despite not using the space to his benefit, director Dan Hyde has clearly a deep understanding of the text and manages to coax out some very impressive performances from his cast.The two standouts are Billy Knowles and Abbey Mordue who played Robbie and Lucy. They perfectly fit the tone and look of the production from the outset and give very funny, honest performances. Matthew Bunn gives a very broad performance as the teenage prostitute, but it suits his character well as he brings the wide-eyed innocence of this troubled youth to the fore and perfectly handles the darker undertones of the character. Warren Taylor’s depiction of drug dealer Brian is an interesting one, it is full of quirks and he creates a very frightening character but he doesn’t particularly play well against Mordue and Knowles, with whom shares his scenes. I wouldn’t quite say it was a selfish performance, and, yes, he should be commended for taking risks and exploring the opportunities that the role brings, but perhaps it requires some toning down on behalf of the director. Ian Baksh as Mark, unfortunately was the least successful and had probably the most important role. The role cries out to be underplayed, this is a completely aloof, emotionally distant young man, a selfish, narcissistic individual who cares not who he hurts on his self-destructive downfall. All I will say is sometimes less is more and I would recommend Baksh has a look at David Thewlis’ work in Mike Leigh’s Naked.These criticisms are comparatively minor, however, as the production as a whole is a hard-hitting, explosive, visceral experience that will not be easily forgotten. It’s a difficult play and a very brave choice on behalf of this up-and-coming theatre company. It won’t go down well with a lot of people due to Ravenhill’s brutally dark take on humanity, but for those who prefer their theatre a with a little more edge I couldn’t recommend this production highly enough. I eagerly look forward to see what’s next from this company - so long as it’s not Sarah Kane’s Blasted.

Reviews by Stewart McLaren

Online at www.DavidLeddy.com (with Traverse Theatre)

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The Blurb

Lulu wants Robbie who wants Mark who wants Gary. Everything's for sale in Mark Ravenhill's most explicit and controversial play, presented by critically acclaimed About Turn. Includes strong language and nudity. 'A well deserved reputation for excellence' (Scotsgay).