Product at the Arcola
A Hollywood producer is pitching a movie script to a famous actress. Like the most incorrigible of saleswomen, she plugs its themes of love and sex, its schmaltzy ending, action scenes and substantial helping of gore as if these are brand new concepts, relishing every cliché and modicum of melodrama. There’s a shift: prayer mats and knives, “dusky” dark skin, the fearsome looming of terrorism.
Mark Ravenhill’s one-woman show captures the incongruity of a community that seethes with post-911 paranoia and prejudice, yet values cheesy love stories and plastic perfection. It satirises Hollywood with gleeful familiarity and engaging comedy, from the obsequiousness with which the talent is treated to the superficiality of so many mainstream plots.
Product is one long monologue performed by Olivia Poulet as a producer whose fervent belief in the script begins to slips into desperation to satisfy her bosses. Outlining in colourful detail the plotline, Poulet keeps the audience in the palm of her hand and brings to the fore the play’s humour and ridiculousness without ever going over the top.
Overdone lines such as “scorch me with your groin of fire” play on the showiness of mainstream US blockbusters. There’s fainting, fire, news anchors, the ‘feds’, an appearance from Osama Bin Laden and even a training montage that begins in icy lakes and finishes in the mountains with Tibetan monks. Grotesque moments, such as that in which character Mohammed burns himself alive in shame for failing Allah, are quickly lured back into the superficial with references to character Amy’s “aching sexuality” for him or little asides about her “white goods and trendy loft-style appointment”.
With pared-back direction and lighting, Product relies heavily on its engrossing script and Poulet’s energy and presence, and manages to captivate from start to finish. Ravenhill’s cynical mind is showcased at its best in this send-up of mainstream American sensationalism and propaganda, and the way that Hollywood has stolen and reapportioned our vocabulary and left it hollow.
Product is on at Arcola Theatre until 23rd May 2015, for further information or to book visit here.