Shopping and Fucking was the first full length play by Mark Ravenhill. It was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre, temporarily rehoused in the West End (the usual
Sloane Square venue was being refurbished) by Max Stafford-Clark's Out of Joint theatre company, in 1996.
Press releases for the production proudly boasted "There goes the neighbourhood", as billboards featuring the title, offensive letters hidden behind the prongs of a giant fork, began to spring up around London, and later (the play was to embark upon a national tour) around some of the county's more conservative cultural backwaters.
The play opens with a a young man and woman, Robbie and Lulu, attempting to feed another young man, Mark, from a microwave dinner. Mark, who is being racked by cold turkey after trying to quit heroin, tells a story, in which he buys Lulu and Robbie from a man in a supermarket.
The play explores themes of commodification, of crumbling value structures and of the sociological fallout of the pronouncement by Margaret Thatcher that "there is no such thing as society". Within Shopping and Fucking, characters tell stories that gain greater significance than their physical actions. Ravenhill is painting a picture in which Jean Baudrillard's theories of hyper-reality have been allowed to form into a vapid dystopia, a world of arch individualism, where even sexual exchanges become currency with which to barter.
Not a play for the faint hearted - think anal rape and screwdrivers - Shopping and Fucking is nevertheless, for the most part, eminently slick, funny and watchable. Along with Sarah Kane's Blasted, one of the two most significant theatrical debut's of the 1990's
Oh yeah, and the characters are named after the members of Take That, and Lulu - their collaborator on Light My Fire (my thanks to theboy for the song title). Ravenhill isn't all serious.