Arts Review – Shopping and Fucking


Dir. Julia Midtgard, Stereo, 5th – 7th June

Shopping and Fucking. That’s the title of Mark Ravenhill’s 1996 play, and it’s one guaranteed to weed out the faint-hearted among us. It’s a name that might leave anyone of a prudish disposition hovering outside the box office, unsure of how to proceed. ‘Can I have tickets for Shopping andShopping and Fu– oh, never mind’, you can practically hear someone spluttering before turning away and heading off home, ticketless. Shopping and Fucking isn’t for the easily perturbed. It’s that provocative.

Performing Ravenhill’s play in the basement of Stereo, Fear No Colours Theatre proves that the content is almost as shocking as the title. Within the first ten seconds there’s vomit, and talk of substance abuse.  Mark – one of only five characters in the play – orally expels the contents of his stomach over himself as his flatmate Lulu begs him to eat. Then, sick-stained, Mark announces that he’s leaving to get himself off drugs. From this point onwards, the audience is catapulted into a bleak but culturally resonant plot that places vice, disposability, and consumerism under the microscope.

The word ‘transaction’ crops up frequently in the financially broken world inhabited by Mark, Robbie, Gary, and Lulu – a semantic reminder that, here, all aspects of existence have undergone commodification. Bodies are bought and sold, and the notion of ownership has an irresistible appeal for some. ‘It was a transaction, and when you’re paying someone you can’t call it a personal relation,’ Mark insists to housemate and lover Robbie after a sexual encounter with a stranger in rehab. Later, in the home of underage prostitute Gary, Mark remarks softly, ‘If I pay you this doesn’t mean anything. Do you think that’s right, in your experience?’

Money and possessions are everything in Shopping and Fucking. Lulu and Robbie sell sex over the phone and peddle drugs so they can afford to live. As an audience member, your discomfort arises partly from the questions that begin to swirl around in your mind as you watch events unfold. All this rampant consumerism… is it a reflection of my own society? Is this us? Is this me? The play has, after all, been branded ‘prophetic’ in the past.

Save for a few moments, the emotions presented onstage manage to avoid becoming caricaturesque. Gary is the most convincing character; his obvious vulnerability and desperation to be owned (the product of years of violent abuse) is positively heartbreaking. There’s also some offbeat comic relief provided in the shape of Brian, the sex-and-drugs retailer who, although terrifying in nature, has an oddly endearing penchant for The Lion King.

Ravenhill’s play is a stark and brutal portrait of the perils of consumerism.

The small space offered by Stereo is perfectly suited to represent the tiny lives led by each character as they attempt to navigate an increasingly cut-throat world that is centred, exclusively, around two things: shopping and – you guessed it – fucking.

[Morgan Laing – @sm4shingpumpk1n]

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