GUEST REVIEWER PHILIP FISHER ON RAVENHILL’S EXTENDED HIT
It is amazing how quickly contemporary events become history, and recent history becomes the distant past. Mark Ravenhill’s 45 minutesatire was first seen at the Traverse during the 2005 Fringe, less than a month after the London 7/7 bombings. It uses as its central figures Al Qaeda activists involved in the War on Terror, and even features a cameo from the late Osama bin Laden. As such, it already feels dated by the advent of the latest generation of terrorists such as ISIS.
This new production stars Olivia Poulet, best known for her appearances in The Thick of It. She plays a role originally taken very successfully by the playwright himself, both at the Traverse and in a remixed version at the Bush a couple of years later: a movie producer trying to sell the role of a modern girl named Amy in her latest project, the comically-bad Mohammed and Me, to some big-hitting Hollywood starlet.
Where Ravenhill’s guest was played by a real actress, albeit a silent presence, in this version she is a void located somewhere near the audience. Oddly, this does make a difference to both audience perceptions and the performance, which has slightly less focus. The gender change for the producer almost comes off but that too alters the piece, reducing the irony inevitable when a middle-aged man was telling a young woman how to react and express feelings that she would understand far better than he ever could.
The story remains compelling,though, filled with dark humour. Amy, having lost her lover when the Twin Towers fell, meets a “dusky” fellow on a plane and due to force of circumstance takes the Islamic virgin straight to bed. In heavy-handed Hollywood fashion, we discover that he is a suicide bomber and as love blossoms, Amy is left with a series of decisions which only ever occur in bad movies. The story builds explosively to a blockbuster denouement. Yet Product is effective both because it shines a light on terrorism and cruelly lampoons Hollywood blockbuster movie for shallowness and unthinking tactlessness. Poulet urges the text along in an entertaining performance but one that cannot quite match that of Ravenhill who conceived the role. But it will still draw audiences and has been extended to the Fringe’s end
http://www.edfringe.com now to 24 Aug