REVIEW: Product, Arcola Theatre ✭✭✭

Product at the Arcola Theatre

Arcola Theatre
4 May 2015
3 Stars

In her preview, for The Guardian, about the Arcola’s current revival of Mark Ravenhill’s 2005 play Product, Laura Barnett said:

“Written in 2005, Product sees the producer (Poulet) trying to pitch a film – working title, Mohammed and Me – about a white western woman falling in love with an Islamist terrorist. The script is, of course, dreadful: we know it, and the producer knows it, and part of Poulet’s skill as an actress (I saw the show during its Edinburgh run last year) lies in conveying the mounting desperation in her character’s eyes.”

This is spot on. It is also about all that can be said about the narrative without compromising an audience’s enjoyment of the shocks and surprises which litter the piece and give it cohesion and character.

Directed by Robert Shaw, this fifty minute satirical monologue is well worth seeing for Olivia Poulet’s gifted comic turn. She extracts the humour rather as a surgeon lances a boil: with swift, sure, incisions that produce copious discharge, some of it unpleasant to think about. I doubt her delivery of the work could be bettered, so carefully thought through and executed is every aspect of her captivating performance.

The issue lies with the play itself.

Specific political satire dates rather easily. Ravenhill wrote this play a decade ago and, in that time, much has changed. Osama Bin Laden is dead, for instance, yet the script relies upon him being a live bogeyman, or at least one of whom the rumours of death have been greatly exaggerated.

While the central satirical focus – Hollywood’s ability to exploit any subject with a breathless enthusiasm that is blood curdling – is still acute, the notion that the world is still largely preoccupied with the fall of the Twin Towers and Al Queda softens edges which ought be razor sharp. It would not take much for Ravenhill to update key elements of the text, to bring the satire up to date, to tap into current nightmarish scenarios. It would be an effort that would bring great rewards.

Nevertheless, this is funny and acerbic, and Poulet’s performance is reason enough for the revival.

Product runs at the Arcola Theatre until 23 May 2015.

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