First performed in Edinburgh at the Traverse Theatre in 2005, Mark Ravenhill: Product is a fresh revival of the play. This time the set-up has been tweaked and the monologue is delivered by a woman, the dynamic Olivia Poulet. Written a few years after 9/11, it takes a satirical look at attitudes towards Muslims, as well as the ridiculousness of a certain middle class consumerism. All of this is delivered in an unusual format, effectively using the audience as a silent character – the actress in a film within the play.
Poulet plays an insincere and at times desperate film executive, who is trying to persuade an unseen actress to play the part of Amy in a new film called Mohammed & Me (which seems to have the crassness of a poorly written Mills & Boon). She does this through an energetic portrayal of the plot, with herself playing the part of Amy, a vacuous and superficial character who lives in ‘a fabulous loft-style apartment’ in an old abbatoir and is desperately bent on attaching herself to a man. The madcap plot of the film centres on her having a chance encounter with a ‘dusky fellow’ who ‘has a knife and a prayer mat’, and subsequently veers between steamy, implausible love scenes and an Islamist plot to blow up Disneyland. And Osama Bin Laden features too.
There are some truly funny moments, as the difference between the executive’s hopeful pitch and her actual depiction of the film becomes apparent. The romantic scenes are delightfully gory, with the executive cheerfully describing ‘sperm still dribbling down your leg’, illustrating the lengths to which she’ll go. I also thoroughly enjoyed the nonsensical clichés she uses, such as ‘the heart is a bigger organ than the brain’.
By the end of the monologue, however, I was exhausted by spending so much time with a single unsympathetic character, and by the much-repeated description of the ‘dusky’ man. This was not Poulet’s fault, but perhaps the script’s; building an hour-long solo show around a tedious individual is risky, as it’s hard not to transfer that opinion to the play itself.
The weak character of Amy provides an amusing criticism of poor female roles in the media, and highlights some of the more ridiculous aspects of contemporary society. However, the drawback of making her thoroughly believable (and thoroughly irritating) is the jokes became too predictable by the end. For all this, it’s a well-staged play, and Poulet is incredibly engaging in her role.