Shopping and F**king (Sly Rat and NIDA Independent) runs from June 24 – July 6 2013. By Mark Ravenhill, directed by Alan Chambers.
There is so much that could be fascinating in Shopping and F**king. These two things – shopping and fucking – become a kind of 1990s update on two cultural standards, love and money. Love and money have always had tension between them, and for shopping and fucking, it is the same. The tension between love and money is one of emotion: love is priceless, a thing that cannot be bought. In this play, one character almost literally goes shopping for a fuck, wanting/needing a relationship based on money, not on love, but he cannot help his emotions getting involved. The pleasures of shopping and fucking, we see, are eerily similar: both are a form of consumerism.
Sadly, Sly Rat and NIDA Independent’s production of Shopping and F**king does not realise the promise in Mark Ravenhill’s script. The most interesting thing in this show should be the relationships between all the characters. Is the relationship between any two characters a loving relationship? a financial one? shopping or fucking? But although the actors spent a lot of time clambering all over each other, these relationships felt strangely un-nuanced. These emotional bonds were largely flat. When one character said, “I love you,” to another, for instance, we had no idea what that meant. Were they really in love with them? Did they need them more than want them? Did they need something from them? Was it some kind of fantastical obsession? Any of these readings could be possible, but this production didn’t seem to make any decisions when it came to character motivation at all. I feel like director Alan Chambers needed to make, if not bolder decisions, then clearer ones.
This flattening of the nuances of interpersonal relationships meant that many of the characters did not noticeably grow or change over the course of the show, and so quickly stagnated and became dull. This was particularly true of Robbie (Joseph Appleton) and Lulu (Katherine Moss) – Moss had some early opportunities to show some vulnerabilities, but otherwise remained fairly one note, while Appleton remained the same Russell Brand-esque caricature throughout (although his momentary sinister digression in the second act was well done). There was a gulf between action and character: because the characters did not seem to develop in response to their actions, we lost all sense of who they were, and consequently, interest in the show in general.
It sounds so hackneyed to say this, but I just didn’t care about any of the characters. I also found myself largely unable to care about their plight (and let’s be clear – these characters are in a bad situation). I felt like this production was going more for SHOCK! VALUE! than for considering the complexities of what could be a very interesting script. The ideas in Ravenhill’s script are fascinating, but in this production, they were not really allowed to shine.