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Shopping and Fucking review at the Lyric Hammersmith, London – ‘full on and full up’

Alex Arnold, Sam Spruell and Sophie Wu in Shopping and Fucking at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. Photo: Tristram Kenton Alex Arnold, Sam Spruell and Sophie Wu in Shopping and Fucking at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Sean Holmes has form when it comes to reviving plays that were notorious in their day. He staged Simon Stephens’ Herons earlier in the year and Edward Bond’s Saved before it, in 2011. Now he’s mounting the 20th-anniversary revival of Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking, the play with the famously potty-mouthed title set in a universe of abuse, violence, drugs – and money.

Holmes and his design team, Jon Bausor and Tal Rosner, have reconfigured the Lyric Hammersmith’s auditorium, installing temporary seating that raises the audience in the stalls above the level of the stage. There’s a further bank of seating on one side, making it look a bit like a television studio.

Max Stafford-Clark’s 1996 Royal Court premiere was described at the time as “oddly fastidious”. Holmes’ take on the play is full-on and full-up, all neon and Hypercolor, bare bums and blood-splatter, green paint and green screen. He’s inserted a number of interludes into the text in which the cast flog cans of Red Stripe to the crowd, or launch into a karaoke rendition of East 17’s Stay Another Day.

The dialogue is delivered in a manner alternatively flat and frantic. Price tags dangle off every item of clothing and bargain bins are dotted about the stage. There’s a QVC tackiness to everything and at times the production resembles something Antoine de Caunes might have presented late at night in the 1990s on Channel 4.

As a text, while it feels prescient in places, it’s also very much a thing of its time; certainly Holmes’ production makes it feel like an artefact. There are snatches of the Shamen’s Ebeneezer Goode and Take That (the people in the play, famously, are named after members of the boy band). There are Nintendo sound effects and a weird sheen of school-disco nostalgia. In this play where everything is transactional, even memories can be boxed up and sold to us.

The performances are all strong. David Moorst is unexpectedly moving and vulnerable as a broken boy, accustomed to abuse, while Ashley McGuire (excellent, as ever) speaks with the potency of a preacher as drug dealer Brian. Interestingly it’s left to a member of the audience to read out the last passage of the text.

At times, it feels like Holmes is holding everything at arm’s length. (His is a markedly different approach to the one Katie Mitchell took earlier in the year with Sarah Kane’s Cleansed). As a result it’s possible to appreciate the play’s impact and influence, its dark humour and its boldness, while also finding it a bit tiresome and blunt in its insistence that everything is for sale.

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Verdict
Aptly brash but oddly remote revival of Mark Ravenhill’s iconic but rarely staged play
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