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Shopping and F***ing

Mark Ravenhill
Lyric Hammersmith

David Moorst as Gary Credit: Helen Murray
Alex Arnold as Robbie Credit: Helen Murray
Sophie Wu as Lulu Credit: Helen Murray

In the 1990s, when Shopping and F***ing (then known by its full name) joined plays like Sarah Kane's Blasted in creating the In-Yer-Face sensation, it reputedly shocked the world, including many who never saw the play.

That presents a challenge to directors like Sean Holmes two decades on, when society takes almost everything in its stride (even the antics of Donald Trump for the most part).

In that context, Holmes has eschewed the opportunity to direct the work straight, instead using his auteurial prerogative in an effort to create something that will wake up today's matter-of-fact younger theatregoer.

The result foregoes the piece's intended naturalism, instead adopting a stylised approach that tries to involve the audience in a 95-minute performance that is set in a space that could be a TV game show studio, brash nightclub or karaoke bar.

In this setting, a dedicated cast of five delivers the original lines under what can seem sterile conditions, losing much of the original menace and replacing it with a determinedly satirical tone.

The basic plot features flatmates Lulu and Robbie, played by Sophie Wu and Alex Arnold. Hard-up but surviving, they are too keen on artificial stimulants for their own good. Far worse off though is Sam Spruell as Robbie's lover and born addict Mark.

He is desperate to break from them and go clean but hasn't the mental strength to do so. Instead, life spirals for all three.

First, Lulu's acting break for fat Brian (played with vigour and dry wit by the female Ashley McGuire) turns into a sex session and opportunity to push ecstasy. Ignoring the first rule not to take the stock, Robbie makes lots of friends but leaves them £3,000 in the red.

At the same time, Mark tries a different kind of addiction, falling for Dave Moorst as super-cute rent boy Gary. The only minor drawbacks are the youngster's age (a mere 14) and dangerously masochistic desires.

With these ingredients, Mark Ravenhill set up a sad comedy that presented a snapshot of clubbing days in the nineties, where AIDS, funds and promiscuity were the only barriers to permanent bliss.

This 20th anniversary revival comes across as more of a director's attempt to deconstruct and use the play as a modern entertainment, frequently using audience address to dilute the power of the text, rather than a faithful representation of what has now become a popular modern classic.

On the plus side, all five actors have their moments, with David Moorst and Sophie Wu particularly catching the eye.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher