Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Theatre review: Product

Leah (Future Dame Olivia Poulet) is a mid-ranking Hollywood executive who thinks she's found the script to take her to the big leagues, in Mark Ravenhill's 2005 monologue Product. With the right leading lady in place she might be able to get it green-lit, and she's managed to get a meeting with a big enough name. The whole 50-minute show is Leah's pitch to the actress, as she talks her through what she believes will be a bold and moving epic: Mohammed and Me, the story of a 9/11 widow who falls in love with a suicide bomber. Product is a pretty straightforward play, a satire on how Hollywood latches onto tragedy in the most crass possible way, as well as of stereotyped Western attitudes to Islam. The tasteless movie being pitched is clearly ridiculous but feels just on the edge of something that might actually have got made.

The sense of an obvious prejudice that doesn't quite want to admit it exists - Leah constantly refers to Mohammed as "this dusky fellow" - is well-observed, as are the familiar tropes her script plays on.

But more importantly it's very funny throughout: Some of the best moments are in the utter banalities with which the script responds to the extreme situation - the movie's lead discovering her "converted loft-style apartment" now hosts a terrorist cell, leads her to despair at the long line of bad choices she's made in men.

It doesn't hurt that Poulet's perfect as the misguidedly enthusiastic executive, throwing herself into acting out the script and flattering the unseen actress, rapidly getting more desperate as it becomes obvious she isn't interested. It's a show with one big idea that it follows through very well, and unlike its lead character, Robert Shaw's production pitches it just right.

Product by Mark Ravenhill is booking until the 23rd of May at Arcola Studio 2.

Running time: 50 minutes straight through.

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