This review of a play by Mark Ravenhill entitled "Shopping And Fucking" at the New York Theatre Workshop was written by Rita Sola and appeared in Volume I, Issue 4 (February, 1998) of Applause! Applause! published by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens.
"Shopping And Fucking" - A Play by Mark Ravenhill
New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 1/28/98 at 8:00 p.m.
In the first place, there is very little shopping in this play. And it consists, for the most part, of shop-lifting or shopping with stolen credit cards. The fucking is also purchased or stolen, and although there are graphic sex scenes, most of the sex is metaphorical -- the fucking over of three working class youths by their establishment "betters."
Although the title has received attention, more so because of the ellipsis used by most of the media, it will probably not cause the sensation it did in London where it was presented at the Royal Court Theatre which, despite its name, is famed for producing intensely anti-ruling class drama. In fact, it was the first to introduce the plays of John Osborne and his fellow angry young men back in the fifties, plays which portrayed disaffected, alienated youth. But the young characters of "Shopping And Fucking" are too busy scrounging for survival to afford the luxury of disaffection and alienation.
The play is the first by Mark Ravenhill and you will either love it or loathe it. You will definitely not be bored. Ravenhill has been greatly influenced by Caryl Churchill whom Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") has called the world's greatest living playwright and there are quite a number of us who agree. Among her plays are "Mad Forest", "Top Girls", and "Cloud Nine", but it is especially her last, "The Skriker", that resonates so potently in "Shopping And Fucking". But where Churchill can juxtapose the poignant with the bizarre to great effect, Ravenhill seems consumed with the gross to the point where one person with whom I attended the play said he wanted to run home and take a bath. You tend to wish someone had tapped Ravenhill on the shoulder and whispered, "Less is more; less is more." The performances, however, by Torquil Campbell, Jennifer Dundas Lowe, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Matthew Sussman and Justin Theroux are outstanding.
The play centers on Robbie and Lulu who live with Mark, Robbie's lover, an older man who apparently pays the rent, but is otherwise not much help because of his drug addiction. He does manage to muster up thirty pounds and goes off to hire a pathetic young hustler while Lulu tries to keep body, if not soul, together for herself and Robbie by shop-lifting small microwave dinners which she later explains to Mark are packaged so that they cannot be divided three ways.
The most moving character in the play is Gary, the very young hustler, who is desperate to find the man who will rescue him not only by supporting him but by controlling him, particularly with the roughest possible sex. Later in the play, Mark, who enjoys entertaining his young charges with stories, tells of the purchase of a young slave who is then set free by his benevolent new master. But he does not want to be free; he has never been free; he does not know how to be free.
"Shopping And Fucking" is not the England of Noel Coward, nor of Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone of "Absolutely Fabulous". The subtext of the play is class warfare, hardly surprising since the subtext of life in Britain is class warfare. The conditions are intensified by the economics of the Thatcher years which created a wedge between rich and poor not known since the Victorian era.
Before we dismiss this play as a quaint, if not horrific, portrait of life in the contemporary U.K., let us not forget that in this country, one percent of the population controls seventy percent of its wealth, and these are conservative estimates. Had the play been written about this country, its setting undoubtedly would have been one of those trailer parks that are mushrooming all over the American landscape. Some sixty odd years ago, Sinclair Lewis wrote about the miseries of the depression and of a subsequent Fascist takeover of the country. The novel was called "It Can't Happen Here". Well, it can. Perhaps it has already begun.