Shakespeare and F*%!ing: Mark Ravenhill at the RSC

Mark Ravenhill, the controversial playwright with a talent for shocking audiences, was this week revealed as the new writer-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Stratford may never be the same again. John Walsh imagines what the author of 'Shopping and Fucking' might do with the Bard's poetry

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Burly, shaven-headed and pugnacious, Mark Ravenhill has always delighted in bringing shock tactics to the British theatre stage.

His debut drama, Shopping and Fucking, upset some with its in-your-face title, even before they'd heard a line of dialogue. Its scorching critique of capitalist society was equal parts Marx and The 120 Days of Sodom: it posited a world where shopping centres are churches and every human contact reduced to an economic transaction. Among its effects were a gay gang-rape of a minor, lots of drugs, thieving and prostitution, as well as – and this really was an outrage to British middle-class feelings – an incident of oral sex in Harvey Nichols. He was labelled "controversial" and "cutting edge".

Ravenhill hit the news again in 2001 when his play Mother Clap's Molly House was performed at the Lyttelton Theatre, directed by Nicholas Hytner. It concerned a male brothel in 1726 and the burgeoning of both a gay subculture and a new commodification of sex. It was staggeringly, orgiastically rude. Many were shocked to find such a play being mounted at the National. They were shocked again when Hytner took Ravenhill on as one of his artistic advisers in 2003.

A surreptitious opera lover, in August last year he collaborated with the composer Conor Mitchell to produce a half-hour operatic monologue called Intolerance. Ravenhill's libretto concerned a woman called Helen on a ceaseless quest to cure her irritable bowel syndrome. He told the papers he was planning a full-length opera about the murderer Raoul Moat. Unclassifiable, perverse, inspired as much by historical as contemporary grot, drawn to the darkest recesses of human behaviour (and anatomy), he is now to be writer-in-residence at the RSC in Stratford. What he might produce is anybody's guess...

Hamlet, Rent Boy

The scene: Elsinore Castle

Claudius: Full two weeks since thy father's death, thou have

Bewailed thy loss full sore with tears and groans,

Wild accusations about ghostly shapes

Who bring thee tales of murder, gross and foul,

And implicate thy uncle. It beginneth

To royally piss me off.

Gertrude: He hath a point. What reason hast thou, child,

To mope around the castle with a face

Like unto a slapped arse?

Hamlet: Shut thy trap,

Thou steaming, bloody, hypocritic slag.

So little did thou care for my old man,

Thou could'st not wait to get thy horny mitts

On Claudius's orb and sceptre ...

Gertrude: Don't you dare

Speak to your mum like that. I was distraught

When news came of his premature demise.

Hamlet: Distraught my foot. Starved of rumpy-pumpy,

Thou lusted after Claudius, my uncle,

Like unto a mongrel bitch in heat,

Knowing that beneath his seamy bed,

A chest more huge and hefty than his own

Contained a bloody fortune in doubloons...

Gertrude: I'faith, Hamlet, thou talk total bollocks –

Hamlet: Money and sex, lust and cash entwined,

Twas ever thus. Have I not lectured thee

On th'iniquities of consumer greed? 'Tis just as Marx, Teutonic sage and seer,

Said in 'Das Kapital'...

Enter Polonius

Polonius: Concealed behind the arras, I have listened

Full half an hour to thy ill-tempered rant,

Thou numpty, toe-rag, little Commie git,

I'll teach thee t'abuse thy sainted mother.

Polonius draws sword. They fight. Hamlet stabs him in the codpiece.

Hamlet: Have I pricked him in the arras? Or 'arassed him

In the – but soft? Who comes?

Enter Ophelia

Ophelia: All right, Hammy? What's the bleedin' racket?

And who's th'old geezer in the pool of blood?

Hamlet: Never mind. Lady, may I lie in your lap?

Ophelia: You got a bloody nerve. I don't put out

For rude boys. I don't drop my fishnet hose

Without a proper wooing. Five Bacardi

Breezers and a meat pie should suffice.

Hamlet: Love and money, intertwined again!

Where'er I look, that theme assails my sight.

O slutty maid, I'll court thy skinny ass

No more. To a nunnery get thee hence.

Ophelia: O Hamlet, thou hast broke my heart in twain.

Though all my pals told me thou wert a wanker,

I thought that I could change thee...

Hamlet: A change thou certainly hath wrought in me.

Henceforth I'll hunt the country lass no more,

But lie with gentlemen, and sell my butt

For 20 groats a pop. If I can't beat

The whorish times, then let me join right in.