Written as part of an assignment in my first year at Edge Hill University
Warning: Contains swearing.
Mark Ravenhill is a British playwright whose second play, Shopping and Fucking, propelled him into the forefront of contemporary theatre in the 1990’s. He has since gone on to great success in the theatre, due in no small part to the popularity of this play.
Shopping and Fucking is a shocking and cynical look at the disposable world of 90’s England. It opened at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1996 and was a major part of the Nineties movement known as ‘in-yer-face theatre’. Despite the play now being 20 years old, it still manages to resonate the shock factor that put it in the forefront of the movement. However it has to be said that a modern audience may not be as shocked with the complexities of the relationships between the characters in the play (who are, amusingly, named after members of the boyband Take That). It’s a testament to a (little) more enlightened age that the relationship between Lulu, Robbie and Mark doesn’t seem as shocking or strange in 2016 as I imagine it did to a theatre audience in a time when homosexuality and pansexuality were not as accepted as they are today.
The plot of the play revolves around four characters; Mark, who used to work in the city but is now a recovering drug addict, Robbie, Mark’s jealous and insecure lover, their girlfriend Lulu and a sexually abused teenage prostitute called Gary. Mark meets Gary and pays him for sex which serves up one of the plays many shocking scenes. An unforgettable bedroom scene which includes analingus and blood. This play is definitely not for the faint of heart!
Lulu goes for a job interview at a tv shopping channel where her sleazy boss gets her to audition topless before convincing her to sell Ecstasy for him. Lulu agrees and involves Robbie in the dealing too, but when Robbie practically gives all of the pills away, they find themselves in trouble to the tune of £3,000. After trying to set up a phone sex line, Mark introduces them to Gary and the four of them are faced with a life altering choice.
The themes behind the play, those of the disposable nature of the world and the fact that everything is treated as a commodity, still have relevance in the world today. Perhaps even more so, as the slightly far fetched world in which the play is set resonates uncomfortably in the even more throwaway and commodity rich world of today.
Perhaps then, the most shocking thing about Shopping and Fucking is not the ‘in-your-face’ sexuality of its characters, or the pints of blood and sadomasochism. Maybe it’s the fact that Ravenhill was onto something twenty years ago, he tried to warn us and we didn’t listen? Whatever the answer, the play is hard hitting and darkly humorous, so if you’re not easily shocked and you have a strong stomach, I’d recommend watching Shopping and Fucking.