Theatre review: Product at Arcola Theatre

Olivia Poulet in Product by Mark Ravenhill, Arcola. Picture: Richard Davenport

Olivia Poulet in Product by Mark Ravenhill, Arcola. Picture: Richard Davenport - Credit: Richard Davenport

Mark Ravenhill’s irreverent satire of Hollywood packs in the laughs, says Greg Wetherall.

The notion that bad taste reigns supreme in planet Hollywood is mined enthusiastically by Mark Ravenhill’s irreverent comedy, Product. Directed by Robert Shaw, this revival of Ravenhill’s one-person, one-act 2005 play still resonates 10 years on.

Blonde studio executive, Leah (Olivia Poulet), perches lightly upon a comfortable looking executive leather chair. Gesticulating wildly, with an expressive and infectious fluidity to the unseen actress, Julia, she drives her (and us) through a ‘wonderful’ new script. Tentatively-titled ‘Mohammed and Me’, Julia is assured that this will be the script to save her from B-movie hell. After all, it has everything: huge explosions, a ribald and intense passion, and the overarching theme of international terrorism.

Taking occasional sips from the Grande Starbucks coffee cup to her side, Leah is blissfully unaware of the outrageous offensiveness of the script. It is one that is entwined in nasty racial stereotypes and the dialogue contains a foul and uncouth tongue. Ravenhill’s script consciously pitches the audience in the position of laughing at her, not with her.

Shaw’s direction is bare bones in terms of its simplicity, which means that Product relies on the efficacy of its humour to keep it afloat. Taut, and equipped with sharp gags, the flighty superficiality of the ingratiating Leah is wonderfully evoked by Poulet. The desperation in her eyes is palpable; adding a visceral edge to what is a deliberately squirm-inducing ride. While Leah might not sell the product to any decent-minded, discerning observer, Poulet sells her performance triumphantly.

Ultimately, this is a lightweight satire. If you are looking for profundity, you might do better to look elsewhere. It is, however, pretty damn funny. Product will make you smile and shake your head at the same time, which is a rare feat indeed.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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