Tonight our class saw a production of Shopping and Fucking at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre. Yes, it is really titled that, and I’m not going to censor it, sorry folks. The first thought that I had as the show was ending was “This was the most disgusting piece of theatre that I have ever seen.” Disgusting does not necessarily mean bad, however. It’s been several hours since I’ve seen it, and I’m still extremely cloudy on how I feel about this show.
As you enter the theatre, there are two walls of TV screens and the stage is set up into a game show arrangement. Throughout the show the TVs were used for purposeful over-stimulation and to watch the actors. They were live broadcasting some of the scenes from a camcorder connected to an electrical board. I don’t think this design is stated in the script, but they were definitely trying to create a full experience of a performance. There were three things usually shown on the TVs: advertisements, live video of the actors, and karaoke songs. There was a clear collection box at the front of the stage that actors would put money into whenever they wanted to sing a song with the karaoke machine. Whenever there was an “Ecstasy Interlude” (basically a dance break), the stage would transform into the blinding and booming scene of a 90’s nightclub. It makes a lot of sense contextually that this play was written in 1996, more because of the playwright rather than the actual play. I know many “new” critics* would chastise me for looking at the context of the society surrounding the first production, but I think the influences of the AIDS/HIV epidemic and commercial society in the 9o’s was extremely influential on the playwright, Mark Ravenhill.
**”New Criticism tended to consider texts as autonomous and “closed,” meaning that everything that is needed to understand a work is present within it. The reader does not need outside sources, such as the author’s biography, to fully understand a text; while New Critics did not completely discount the relevance of the author, background, or possible sources of the work, they did insist that those types of knowledge had very little bearing on the work’s merit as literature. “(https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/glossary-terms/detail/new-criticism)
Within this consumer-driven world of the play, there was a huge importance on ownership. Usually meaning the ownership of someone else, and all sexual acts have become a “transaction” rather than an act of love. We saw a huge struggle to fight for the ownership of yourself rather than being owned by others. Owned by money, by materials, by drugs, or by someone, everyone was owned by something. Everyone in this play was partially owned by smack (heroin) or ecstasy, and it seemed like every character was owned by a yearning for tenderness. In this world of fluorescent skies and flashing neon walls, these characters all sought real gentle care and tender love. It’s interesting that even in this game show set design, the play still felt incredibly gritty and nasty. I wanted to take a shower after! The main character, Mark, especially feels this struggle to not tie himself to an addiction physically or emotionally because he wants to finally feel like his own person. Placing this emotional crisis into our modern day, I think many people feel dependent for their lives on social media. Without social media we are not truly defined as “real” people, and those who live without it are considered anarchistic and usually forgotten or mocked in society. This generation’s motto of: If you didn’t document it, did it even happen? I think ownership via mighty capitalism has been a long standing addiction for many decades. We must have the newest item, the latest craze, one must keep up and stay relevant in our kaleidoscope of a world. My tip as a young punk who knows nothing is to go a week, even three days without technology, so you can force yourself to realize what the world around you looks and feels like. Gain memories without proof, life’s not a competition of who can have the coolest existence. That’s idiotic and stupid in my opinion, and a waste of your incomprehensible amount of brain power.
I gotta say, I spent most of this play extremely tense and with a contorted face, because this show is a rough one. It is extremely sexual and sexually violent, so PLEASE be warned of this before you go to this show. There was also a lot of drug references, but very little drug use (popping E occasionally). Gary, the young man in the photo above, has an especially dark and abusive life story, and his demise at the end of the play is…somewhat unbearable, actually. Not because we see him die (thank goodness), but because of the images that we are given to imagine as it is happening, which is just as bad if not worse. It was one of those shows where you really never know what the character is going to do next, and you’re probably a little scared to find out. OH, yeah, and there’s a lot of nudity. A real package deal you could say! This gratuitous grotesqueness is purposeful to the play, but I’m sure it’s made many an audience member leave.
“Civilzation is money-Money is Civilization.”
That quote was said by our villain, an unnamed drug dealer and all around terrifying person. Not extremely different in tactics than other villains, but having a great villain in live theatre makes their presence even more stressful. He was one of those villains who has a great love for the “beauty” that money can buy, and usually speaks for several minutes building suspense before he scares the living heck out of you. In order to raise money lost in a drug selling spree, Robbie and Lulu join a phone sex line for a week to remake the money, which of course was performed an broadcast onto the TVs. Being owned and serving money was extremely disgusting to watch. Incredibly sad, because you knew how badly they wanted to be anywhere else than where life had dragged them. With Robbie especially I always saw his want for a new chance. But when you’re still addicted to the bad habits of the past, it’s hard to search for options in a new path.
Why I feel like I might have actually enjoyed it…is because of the issues and topics covered in this play. I may not like the way that they were presented, but they dealt with some really relevant devils in our lives. I would not want to see the play again, but I keep thinking back on it with a fond eye. I may have laughed less than 1% of the show, but this show is gonna stick with me for a while, I believe. Whether it’s a welcome haunting or not, I cannot say, but I really felt shaken and cloudy after the performance. As much as we in theatre praise the classics, it’s just as important to see how our craft is evolving and adapting every year. New movements and theatrical trends are created all of the time, and I think it’s pretty stubborn to just stick with the genre that you’re comfortable with. Although it is easy! Just remember that you are your own person and you are in charge of your own decisions, and a partner or whomever should not be creating your life for you, because they should be shaping their own. So join the rest of us who are stuck in the primeval muck of identity crisis and we’ll work it out soon enough.