In order to prepare for playing Robbie in Shopping and F***ing, by Mark Ravenhill, which as Ben Lawrence wrote in a review for the play, was written in 1996 (Lawrence, 2016) I was able to get a copy of the play which I could read in order to get a better idea of the plot, the characters and events leading to the scene that myself and Sian will be performing. The section we will be performing is below:
One challenge for me for getting started with this piece was being able to understand the plot, even from the beginning with Mark leaving Robbie and Lulu as well as Lulu’s interview with Brian to get on TV, due to her being an aspiring actress. I had to re-read sections a few times in order to gain some understanding of what was occurring. The two characters taking part in the section that we will be performing: Robbie and Lulu are both living together and trying to get a living, however, by the section that we will be performing, they are under a task set for Lulu to sell 300 ecstasy pills. My character, Robbie by our section is telling Lulu that he has made a mistake and now has to find a way to make up the £3,000 worth of drugs that he has lost, while also revealing he has been attacked by one of his customers.
Once I had re-read the beginning, I was able to get into the plot and continue without much worry, learning that Robbie was in a relationship with Mark, who disappears at the beginning to get help. After returning to Robbie and Lulu earlier than expected, he disappears once again to an under-age Gary, later bringing to his home. This is after the section we will be performing, but by this time, Robbie and Lulu are on chat lines, trying to earn money through sex. I have learned through reading this play that for our section, Robbie is at a desperate state while talking to Lulu, which for me will have to be amplified with the cabaret setting.
As there will be many other people in the cabaret setting, I have already been thinking about how to portray Robbie, who will be a girl for my case, therefore, I also have to think about how to portray this changed character. Currently, as Robbie will be in despair by the scene, telling Lulu of giving away the ecstasy and getting attacked, my initial thoughts would be to play her as pained and in despair, but argumentative while trying to explain what had happened. Gradually showing irritation as the scene continues, particularly as Lulu is asking questions and interrupting Robbie. I noticed that there is a climax to the argument towards the end, with a diagonal dash half way through a speech to indicate the next character speaking over them. This occurs a lot in a short space of time, which will have to build up to create a tense argument, which I feel should gradually get more and more angry due to the strong language. The final monologue of the scene with Robbie talking about there are more important matters in the world, such as war would change the tone temporarily. The heavy language used indicates anger by this point, particularly at the line: “And I think: F*** money. F*** it. This selling. This buying. This system. F*** the b****ing world and let’s be…beautiful”. This will once again changing back to despair when Robbie tells Lulu about the attack.
After reading the whole play, there were aspects that although I still fond confusing, I also found disturbing, particularly between characters which will not be shown in our final performance, Gary and Mark. Gary is fourteen years old who lives above a casino, visited by Robbie’s boyfriend Mark, who confesses his love for Gary, but originally not wanting to catch feelings, still agreeing to pay £30 for some sexual intercourse. In terms of my character’s relationship with Mark, Robbie doesn’t find out about this until after the scene, which would mean this stress would not be shown on the character during the scene we are performing in for Saints and Sinners.
Research about ecstasy
The section of Shopping and F***ing that will be focused on for Saints and Sinners and the play in general has a lot about Lulu being tasked with selling ecstasy pills. Robbie is the character who gets into trouble for not having enough and not making the correct amount of money, I then decided to research more about what they were selling, which I discovered is very dangerous. I was able to find a documentary online about ecstasy and the dangers that they cause, according to the description of the documentary, people in Britain take more than twice the amount of ecstasy than people in Germany, which in 2015 caused the highest amount of deaths in the UK in over a decade.
I found quite quickly that this relates to Robbie in Shopping and F***ing because although he does not take the drug, he sells it. Sellers are mentioned in this documentary and Matt Shea talks to ecstasy sellers in the street, while talking to them, their faces are blurred to avoid recognition. They mentioned that the most popular substance that people are taking is Mandy. One of the sellers was on MDMA at the time of this recording and was quoted to say that he was “pretty buzzing”. I thought that this was interesting to include as while Robbie is describing how we gave away ecstasy pills, he is watching these men who are showing the effects after taking this drug. It is part of what he witnessed and then describes to Lulu in the scene, therefore, while I am describing these men on the effects of it, I can have an idea as an actor, so although the audience won’t see the effects of these drugs, myself playing the character going through the experience will.
For the ending of the section that I take part in, Robbie explains that the reason he was attacked was because he only had two ecstasy pills left, which was not enough for this stranger. I was able to learn through this documentary that takers of the drug would often take many because of the slow amount of time it takes for the drugs to kick in. This would be why the taker got angry at Robbie only having two, although this is small detail, I wanted to include this so I could get a better understanding of taking drugs, the effect they have and how much they are willing to risk their health to get the effects.
After watching this documentary and reading about Robbie explaining how happy the men looked on the dance floor in the nightclub in Shopping and F***ing, I decided to look more into personal experiences. I felt that as my character is a drug dealer and I know nothing about what effects ecstasy has, as well as how popular they are in places such as nightclubs and festivals, I can gain this knowledge and put that into explaining to Sian’s character, Lulu to make it more realistic. Robbie explaining about how happy the men looked after taking ecstasy was very similar to what I read in an article on ‘The Guardian’, written by an anonymous dealer, not wanting to reveal their identity for confidential purposes and to avoid trouble. This anonymous writer wrote about how he felt after taking the drug: “I feel as though I’ve never been so happy, so lucky, so brilliant. I am the very best version of myself” (Anonymous, 2016). However, I also learned through another source on this article that while they can create very happy effects, it can have other, negative effects, making the user feel very down, as taken from this source: “My comedowns are worse than most people’s, from what I can tell. I get a thought stuck in my head, usually something I’ve forgotten to do that’ll get me into trouble at work, and it’s really hard to get past it”.
Finally, I was able to find one more article, but this one relates to drug dealers and not takers, which is what my character Robbie is, I wanted to find out more information about what caused Robbie to end up in Accident and Emergency in the play. Through the Daily Mail article, written by Jack Doyle, I was able to find out that what Robbie was doing in the nightclub could give him a prison sentence if caught. He had 300 ecstasy pills to sell, but being in possession of just 20 could land the person in possession 18 months in prison. I thought that this could be interesting to put in the rehearsal process as while I am playing out the scene with Sian about explaining the dealing of these ecstasy pills, I might experiment with this character and try it with Robbie playing it hushed in case the wrong people hear about the story, especially Saint Jimmy, who in Saints and Sinners is in charge of who goes to heaven and hell.
There are two performances of Shopping and F***ing which I have been able to discover, the first one is a production in Swindon at The Victoria. This ran in 2013 with one of the performances being recorded and uploaded on YouTube, for research, I have been able to watch this version. As I read the play, I had a good idea on the setting and the characters, so this version is a good way of looking at how the directors, Peter Hynds and Sarah Lewis have been able to adapt the play. As part of my research, I can look at how the actors portrayed these characters, particularly Robbie and Lulu to maybe add into my performance or to see if there is any particular manner of portraying Robbie that I can avoid.
I struggled to find article reviews for this version of the play, however, the Lyric Hammersmith also put a production of Shopping and F***ing on, which was shown in 2016 and had reviews from both the Guardian (Lyn Gardiner) and the Telegraph (Ben Lawrence). Both reviewers gave the performance three stars, with Ben Lawrence explaining that the alcohol, drug and sex issues in the play are still relevant, which for us is a positive thing. We will be performing this play twenty one years after it was released, therefore, while linking to the theme of Saints and Sinners, we can also perform a piece which will still be relevant and cause awareness to audiences watching. However, what I found interesting was the portrayal of emotion, writing that anger was shown in a cartoon manner, I don’t want the piece I am performing to be a mockery of the situation or a comedy shown through over the top acting. Therefore, although I imagine my character to be full of emotions, I will try to avoid the comical display of emotion. Instead, after seeing how much ecstasy can affect someone through the documentary, I will try to keep the emotions and the seriousness of the situation.
Lyn Gardiner wrote about not just the play, but also what the cast did with the audience beforehand, they were selling off merchandise to the audience, similar to how Robbie and Lulu must complete their job. This instantly reminded me of how we plan to start Saints and Sinners, with the cast interacting with the audience in a planned pre-drinks bar. As well as the pre-drinks bar, we could also do something similar to what Lyric Hammersmith were able to do by trying to give away things, such as leaflets about the show, heaven and hell or information about Conservatoire EAST. In terms of the actual performance, Gardiner wrote about how she struggled to emotionally connect with the characters and feel the comedy within the show. Reading this has made me wary of how I portray Robbie, although there should be an element of seriousness to the piece, I also feel that we can add the comedy which was lost in the 2016 version, especially as we are setting this is a nightclub.
Ravenhill, M. (1997) Shopping and F***ing. Royal Court Edition. London: Methuen Drama
Lawrence, B (2016) Shopping and F***ing, Lyric Hammersmith, Review: Still Strikingly Relevant. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/shopping-and-fucking-lyric-hammersmith-review-still-strikingly-r/ (Accessed: 9 April 2017)
thevicswindon. 2013. Shopping & Fucking 21st May 2013 The Vic Swindon. [Online]. [Accessed 9 April 2017]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpo3LUj8AhQ
VICE. 2016. The Truth About Ecstasy: High Society. [Online]. [Accessed 9 April 2017]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZMETFXFE24
Gardner, L (2016) Shopping and Fucking review, Mark Ravenhill’s Fearless Play Clicks into Amazon Age Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/oct/13/shopping-and-fucking-review-mark-ravenhill-sean-holmes-revival (Accessed 9 April 2017)
Anonymous (2016) My Secret Life As a High-Functioning Drug User. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/14/secret-life-high-functioning-drug-user (Accessed 10 April 2017)
Doyle, J (2012) Soft justice on drugs: Dealers can sell up to 13lb of cannabis ‘without going to prison’. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2090874/Dont-jail-small-time-cocaine-ecstasy-dealers-judges-told-sentencing-shake-up.html