Product

Tue 2nd – Sat 6th February 2016

reviews

Anna Ratcliff

at 09:52 on 3rd Feb 2016

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Outrageous, rambunctious and as the play itself demanded “edgy, okay?”, ‘Product’ is a surprisingly laughter filled evening.

The premise is gripping from off-set. A producer pitches an increasingly absurd film concept to an off-stage actress, launching from Amy’s lust-filled one night stand with a mysterious “dusky” man, to a jihadist bomb plot at Disneyland Europe and concluding with a one-woman assault on Guantánamo Bay. Touted on social media as “potentially controversial”, its politically-minded and sexually explicit subject matter certainly lives up to that billing. However, in portraying Hollywood’s heavy-handed manufacture of sensationalism out of sensitive topics like 9/11, the production manages to retain a playful self-awareness throughout.

Written as a monologue, the action is divided between the four-piece cast. Emma Corrin, Yasmin Freeman, Lola Seaton and Avigail Tlalim each give energetic, unabashed performances, snapping between voices and scenes with head-turning speed. Potentially, splitting up a monologue could make the performers feel distant from one another and interrupt the flow of fast-paced speech, but the four mesh together as a convincingly cohesive ensemble. The self-referential gags littered throughout give a sense of continuity and provoke some of the biggest laughs of the night.

The staging of the play, while simple and bare, is particularly effective. The lighting shifts between scenes were well executed and helpful in following the action, and scenes are lit solely by the screen light of the performer’s mobile phones. Given its experimental and political nature, it was gratifying to see risks being taken in other aspects of the production. The use of Barbie and Ken dolls to bring to life a graphic suicide attempt showcases the play’s ability to bring together the horrifying and ridiculous with a hilarious end result.

As the recipient of the pitch and in some way acting in the role of the potential actress, the crowd plays a key part in the performance. With some intense – and some may say uncomfortable – eye contact directed from performer to audience member, we are challenged to both be outraged by the more offensive moments and act as judge and jury on the fate of this prospective film. By no means ‘easy viewing’, the demands put upon the audience make for a genuinely exciting theatre experience.

This was very much a production for people interested in production, perhaps limiting its appeal and impact in some respects. However, the performers truly take this tricky and indeed “potentially controversial” play by the scruff of the neck, making for simultaneously fun-filled and thought-provoking viewing.

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Jessie Davidson

at 09:59 on 3rd Feb 2016

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Red light streams from the ceiling. All else is darkness. The four cast members stand spread out across the stage, uttering cries and groans as they enact an excruciating orgasm. This is a sex scene between the emotionally confused call centre worker Amy and her unlikely lover, the shy but seductive terrorist Mohammed.

Product is a play of daring innovation, defined by the precise interaction of lust, violence and hilarity. The farcical love story plays out its parallel disturbing scenarios, including al-Qaida’s bombing of Disneyland. It promises scenes of lovemaking in burning petrol and knives hidden in aeroplane croissants, all acted magnificently by the cast of four.

Yet the defining feature of Product is its humour, able to permeate even the blackest of places. A fiery argument between lovers about al-Qaida is offset by Emma Corrin’s oddly slapstick comment about sperm running down her leg, while later, metatheatricality adds to the play’s wit. It is constantly aware of itself within the genre, with lines such as “fuck it we are in slow motion” and the necessity of having a bloody great cameraman to film the soul leaving the body. The expressions and vocals of the cast are wonderful in perpetuating the comedic value. As a minor character falls from the twin towers, a dying away scream and mock sad look from the cast members gives a moment of disturbing black comedy which clashes with the subject matter of this dark event.

The theme is a sensitive one and there are times when the subject matter gets dangerously close to the bone. One scene focuses on the turmoil of a character about to bomb Disneyland. Ingenious staging heightens dramatic tension, light from phones making faces glare out at you from the dark room. A child’s voice asks innocently in French for its mother, triggering mental breakdown in the emotionally confused suicide bomber. Yet the psychological realism is undercut and parodied by the comic interlude of a sinister voiced Mickey Mouse (whose garish smile is enacted stunningly by Avigail Tlalim). It is at moments such as this that horror and hilarity are intermingled, giving the play its defining characteristic. It would surely slip into the grotesque if not upheld by the brilliance of the acting.

A spectacular range of characters is displayed by the cast members, each of whom enact both of the major figures. Amy is fully developed as a character, and her transition from typist to terrorist is thought provoking as well as comic. Initially a satirical picture of the superficial modern person searching for the “perfect man” and “perfect diet”, Amy becomes the powerful avenger of her lover and, in some scenarios, a martyr in the name of Allah. Muhammed is brilliantly portrayed, sometimes terrifying, sometimes sheepish in his scruples about losing his virginity. A vast array of comic characters, notably Avigail Tlalim’s cockney taxi driver, the kindly Irish nurse and the lifelike Mickey Mouse, punctuate the already tragicomic play with laugh out loud intervals.

Product is well staged and choreographed, with excellent use of voice and facial expression in particular. The staging too is innovative. The use of Barbie dolls to represent the lovers soaked in petrol creates the characteristic balance between humour and terror. Poised between horror and hilarity, and fraught with sinister black humour, this play promises to shock while brightening your cheeks. It is an evening you will certainly remember.

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