'Shopping' crowds prove gay sex sells

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The Independent Online
Shopping and F***ing is the Trainspotting of the south. You cannot get a ticket to this play of gay sex, drugs and violence for love nor money. Already a Royal Court theatre sell-out, an international tour is planned for later this year and a movie may be in the offing.

Mark Ravenhill, the 30-year-old playwright who has struck the big time with his first full-length work, cannot believe his luck. "It's one of those things where you think, 'Hang on, my play is being directed by Max Stafford-Clark and is being really successful,' " he said. "It has been a real phenomenon. People were fighting to get in in Bury St Edmunds [on tour]."

On the strength of Shopping and F***ing's success, Nick Philippou, of the Actor's Touring Company, has commissioned him to write a modern-day Faust, with a twist of road movie and thriller. A 19-venue tour opens in Hemel Hempstead next month and includes three weeks at the Lyric, Hammersmith, in London.

Ravenhill might be from a comfortable background - brought up in Haywards Heath, Sussex - but his vision is harsh. In Shopping and F***ing, Lulu and Robbie get mixed up with a threatening Ecstasy dealer. Their friend Mark falls for an under-age rent-boy. It sees 1990s Britain as a world where everything can be reduced to a transaction.

Yet Mark Ravenhill is no hard man; he is engaging and modest. After leaving Bristol University, he helped to run a small theatre company and directed fringe productions. "It's a bit like being the bridesmaid. Eventually you think you want to write something yourself," he said. "But I had a nice childhood, did quite well at school and went to a nice university. You think that people who write must have mad, wild lives, but I don't really have that much experience, which is what stopped me writing for so long."

He wrote a short piece for an Aids charity event, which grabbed the attention of Max Stafford-Clark, founder of the theatre company Out Of Joint. The renowned director wanted to know whether Ravenhill had a complete play. Of course, he lied, and wrote the first draft of Shopping and F***ing in a month. Four drafts later and it opened at the Royal Court in London's West End last October to widespread praise. After touring, it returned in January and ends next week. Another work for Max Stafford-Clark will follow.

After a glittering start, the thought of his second play is scary. "It's a bit like the guy who made his first record in his bedroom and then gets a number one. What does he do next?"

Ravenhill's Faust is the story of the world's most famous philosopher embarking on a journey of violence and hedonism across America with a computer boffin chaos theorist.

Michael Bogdanov, whose production of Goethe's Faust was slated critically, said the bones of the Faust story were ideally suited for transferring to Hollywood. "It's ideal material to explore this dreadful world of materialism," he said. "Good luck to him."

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