“I love your work, I love it. You were always my first choice” Leah pours sycophantically over a fictional actress. She’s a luvvie-esque producer, trying to pitch a horrendous script to a Hollywood star and it’s not going well.
In Mark Ravenhill’s latest revival Product, Olivia Poulet (The Thick of It) has taken the reins as Leah in this satirical monologue that last saw Ravenhill himself playing the lead. Following rave reviews in Edinburgh last summer, it has now transferred to Studio 2 at the Arcola Theatre where Leah sets the scene for her latest movie, Mohammed and Me, in an attempt to save not only the film but her career as a producer.
The premise of Mohammed and Me is a fantastical Hollywood cliché about a young, beautiful woman called Amy. Amy has it all, a successful job, Versace suit (Versace are on board with the film you know) a converted loft apartment that was once an abattoir and an “emotional wound.” She finds herself falling in love with a Muslim extremist that she meets on a flight and her apartment becomes the HQ for a terror cell, complete with Osama Bin Laden. Amy’s longing desire for love and passion with new dusky beau Mohammed *cue Top Gun theme music* results in her embroilment in a suicide plot to blow up Disneyland. It’s okay, she comes to her senses and after Special Forces storm in to arrest him, she undergoes a remarkable transformation, trained by Tibetan Monks to spring him from prison.
So, are you in? Despite Leah’s persistent flattery, the actress certainly isn’t bought, and as Poulet stares out at the audience you can’t help but feel her efforts are almost worth it. The result is our pity for Leah as her desperation spectacularly shines through and she becomes increasingly animated as she’s aware her attempts are failing. Against the noticeable fear there is great comedy, performed with acerbic wit and honest form, reinforced by her constant ‘brand dropping’ and cringe musical interludes when she loses herself in the story- you’ve got to hand it to the girl, she’s got fight.
After reading previous articles about Ravenhill’s performance, gender plays an intriguing role and it would be interesting to see the producer played by a man; I doubt I would have the same empathy as I did for Leah. Poulet is definitely a force to be reckoned with, she commands Gillian Argo’s stripped back stage and your full attention that never falters in this brilliantly ferocious 50 minute production. She candidly captures the perception of a tough industry, where a failing pitch might in fact be your last.
Thirteen years on and the subject still remains topical post 9/11. Ravenhill’s satirical take on the film industry looks into a modern audience’s need to ‘relate’ to a tragedy, he suggests the inclusion of a love story, designer product placement and OTT special effects are what will essentially sell a movie. It might be a dated outlook and perhaps audiences today are looking for more substance but ultimately he’s got a point when it comes to the glittering Hollywood moguls. I’m sure in 2005 when Product was first performed it may have created a greater ‘shock factor’ but it still packs a punch with Poulet delivering a fast paced, non-stop, cracking performance.
Product runs until 23rd May at the Arcola theatre.
Reviewed by REBECCA USHER