Arcola Theatre, London
Written by Mark Ravenhill
Directed by Robert Shaw
Ten years is a long time in the theatre and as geo-political influences and events have shifted, so too has Mark Ravenhill’s Product that was written in 2005 for a world post 9/11, come to look a little dated.
The one-hander focusses around movie producer Leah who is attempting to sell the role of Amy to Julia, a wannabe starlet. The emptiness of Amy’s life and by analogy Leah’s, is highlighted in the sharp contrast between what motivates her and what motivates the tall, dusky ‘hero’.
Ravenhill’s perspectives would have been timely and relevant in their day, with Amy having been wounded by the events of 9/11 and the loss of her lover in the Twin Towers’ destruction. The writer’s aim of confronting our own prejudices, stereotypes and interestingly, our fantasies too, not so much of Islam, but of Islamic men, would also have made for an interesting conceit, giving us a flavour of the appeal to loveless faithless Western women of the tall, dusky men whose lives are dominated by ‘the knife’ and ‘the prayer mat’, subservient to the mullah and a guaranteed path to paradise.
But the shadow of recent years’ atrocities, both in the UK and abroad, have cast a sobering shadow over Ravenhill’s “romanticized” perspective and writing a decade ago, he could never have conceived the notion of young women fleeing this country in the hope of finding love amongst terrorist fighters abroad.
Olivia Poulet’s Leah is a powerful performance with the cliché rich text that Leah enthusiastically thumbs throughout the 50 minute monologue quite possibly serving as a metaphor for her own cliché ridden life. The passion with which she enthuses the storyline’s references to its heroine’s huge loft style apartment in a converted East London abattoir, albeit lacking a loving relationship, suggest her own lifestyle might be somewhat similar.
Whilst its relevance may have waned, Product remains a powerfully performed and sharp observation of the humiliating process of pitching, written with a generous measure of humour that draws an empathetic laugh from the audience. Poulet’s creation of the parallel characters of Leah and Amy, bringing the starlet Julia to life through her one-way exchanges with the audience, is masterful and her performance alone justifies the ticket.
Runs until 23rd May 2015