'5 Shopping & Fucking garnered both acclaim and controversy on its London and Edinburgh debuts in 1996. The story centred on a meeting between a rent boy and a recovering drug addict, and featured plenty of sex and violence, culminating in the insertion of a knife into an anus. His new play, Some Explicit Polaroids, tells the story of a man released from prison in the present day, having served time for a political crime in the mid-80$. He finds a new generation committed not to politics, but to sex, drugs and general hedonism. So, we asked the playwright about life, the universe and repression.
linemen: Steve Cramer
The List: ls the new play liable to shock'.’
Mark Ravenhill: Very few people haye been shocked. There‘s a sort of odd. circular thing with the British. We like to tell ourselves we‘re kind of prudish. so we think: "well. it‘s alright for me. but the person next to me is going to be shocked." The press keep telling people they‘re going to be shocked. but no one is really. I get landed with the tag controversial playwright. but where is the controyersy'.’
TL: What have you done since .Shopping & I’lu'king'.’ We’ve heard about a play about the Faust myth.
MR: That was about three years ago. It was really about the philosopher Michel lioucault. a European academic who goes to America and is confronted by this new culture. When I was working on it. I found Baudrillard.
TL: He's the philosopher who talks about consumer culture. and consumption taking oyer our whole language“?
MR: Yes. there‘s a lot of that in Shopping A’- l’m'king. though I hadn't read Baudrillard at the time. The characters in that play have consumerism at the centre of their being. Their dreams. eyen their sexual fantasies. are tied tip with buying and selling.
TL: Are the characters of the new play like that'.’
MR: Well. the young characters are yery post-ideological. They’re kind of freer because they don't have to make the world into something that represents their particular \‘iCWpUlllI. That's good. but on the other hand. if they lose
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their way. they don’t haye a compass or a map.
TL: Whereas the older man. who‘s just out of prison. has a socialist belief structure'.’
MR: But he's unable to relate to the world because he’s so dogmatic. lie was put in prison in 198-1. when the Left was at its lowest ebb. There was something shrill. ueg and joyless about the moyement at that stage.
TL: Was that partially about sexual repression'.’
MR: Yes. there was something about repression there. That generation. influenced by things like feminism. became quite asexual. By the early 80s it was anti-sexual. It was belieyed that sexuality was not very useful to the cause.
TL: A lot of your work seems to be about sexuality; how important is it to these plays'.’
MR: It's a big strand. There’s this full range of sexuality inside us. which we often find difficult to accommodate. 1 think I started writing at a very fortuitous point for work about sexuality. Thcrc’d been a whole spate of gay plays just before I started. If Shopping A’- l-'1n'king was a bit earlier. it would haye been pigeonholed as a gay play. an issue play. because there's a couple of gay characters. People have got more sophisticated now. so they can see more in the work.
Some Explicit Polaroids is at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 7—Sat 11 Mar. See theatre listings, page 57.