Note: Shopping and F***ing returns to the West End for a limited season at the Queen's in January 1998 following an international tour and preceding a national one. The following review is from this production's engagement at the Gielgud Theatre in summer 1997. The cast remains the same except for James Kennedy who replaces Lloyd Hutchinson as Mark. Kennedy starred in the original Royal Court production.
The first scene of Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and F***ing opens with one of the central characters vomiting. If the title itself didn't give it away, this is a sure sign that the play means to deal with very raw material. And raw it is - as well as rude, crude, comic, and utterly captivating.
The action centres around a group of young 'no-hopers' whose lives are filled with drugs, nightclubs, rent-boys, sado-masochistic sex and microwave meals. Mark (Lloyd Hutchinson) is a junkie trying to get clean. He extricates himself from his cohorts - Robbie (Pearce Quigley) and Lulu (Caroline Catz) - and checks into rehab. There he discovers that his addiction is to people as well as drugs. When he returns, spewing psycho-speak, he attempts to distance himself from such dependent relationships. But all too soon, he is clamouring for the love and affection of an unfeeling, new idol - young rent boy Gary (Russell Barr). At the same time, Robbie and Lulu are scrambling to raise money to pay off a drug debt to baddie Brian (Tony Guilfoyle). The two scenarios merge when Robbie realises they can wring the money out of Gary in exchange for fulfilling his sick and bloody fantasy. The climax scene to this transaction is not for the faint-hearted.
The acting of the entire cast is absolutely superb. Mark, Robbie, Lulu and Gary all move quickly and seamlessly from vulnerable - Lulu's thumbsucking, Robbie's pining for a 'father figure' - to hard and revolting. Brian is a cauldron of simmering (and spitting!) menace from start to finish.
At the end of the play, there were several intentional question marks. What did it all mean? A rant against capitalism, a statement on the futility of sex and relationships, an argument for more welfare reform? All open to debate. But certainly, the entire audience left thankful that their own lives were not so bad compared to such seedy despair.
Incredibly, Shopping and F***ing is Mark Ravenhill's first play. It has already enjoyed two sell-out runs at the Royal Court Theatre. After just six weeks at the Gielgud in the West End, it will transfer to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe before embarking on a world tour. Catch it while you can!
Review by Terri Paddock, July 1997
But the following reader vehemently disagrees....
Your review of Shopping and F***ing is ridiculous. The show is pure sensationalism. It attracts audiences because of it's title, and only that. I've seen no member of the general public come out enthralled by the production - only arty-farty critics, or fans of appauling Royal Court Upstairs productions.
This play is sick for the sake of being sick. I'm not easily offended - but it was, in a word, crap.
SPiper, October 1997