His second, an updating of Faust for the Actors' Touring Company, could be a wee bit tame by comparison. It is not.
This story of a Foucault-like professor's descent into hell as he goes on an explicit, thrill-seeking sex-and-violence
pleasure spree with a young amoral man as his guide, may be set in the mythic landscape of America's West Coast
deserts but it hit no less close to home. After all, we too are living through the fag end of history, the point where, as
the professor puts it, “reality ended and simulation began”. We too have forgotten how to feel all but the most extreme.
What may prove ironic is that whereas the title of Shopping And Fucking unequivocally signalled that play's area of
interest and scope (there were almost no walkouts in a provincial tour that included such fashionable towns as Bury St.
Edmunds and Redhill), Faust's classic status could attract a more traditional theatre audience. “It was not quite as I
remember the play,” a woman declared, tartly on leaving Hemel Hempstead's Old Town Hall Arts Centre after
Thursday night's performance. But then plays are not quite what they used to be. In the last two years a generation
that seemed to have turned its back on the theatre play, dismissing it as marginal, middle-class and mouldy, has
suddenly found its voice. Haywards Heath-born and bred Ravenhill, who spent almost eight years working within the
theatre before deciding to write, suggests that for a long time language was hijacked by Thatcherism and that words
were very I political. Only physical theatre I offered the possibility of subversion. “He may well be right, but what is
interesting is that it is Thatcher's babes who are now shouting loudest and longest.” At 30, Ravenhill is the crumblie
with the loudhailer at the head of a mob that includes among many Sarah Kane (Blasted), Jez Butterworth (Mojo),
Samuel Adamson (Clocks And Whistles) and Joe Penhall (Pale Horse). All chronicle the disenchantment of a generation
whose souls and imaginations have been privatised and who feel conned when they realise as the young man says in
Faust, “everything is a fucking lie: the music, the food, the TV”... Those of us over 40, born at a time when people really
still, believed that things might actually get better rather than worse, may find that spiritual nihilism as hard to swallow as
all the vomit and spent sperm. Although the violence and sex is no more graphic than that in that Tarantino film that we
rather admired last year. Those critics of Shopping And Fucking who marginalised it by suggesting that it showed only
misfits on the underbelly of society clearly have not been eavesdropping on the personal and business transactions that
happen every night of the week in Soho bars and restaurants. Here many of the clientele would probably concur with the
drug dealer Brian's statement in Shopping And Fucking that “money is civilisation”. Indeed, even plays are now spoken of
as product. In Faust the young man repeatedly mutilates himself (and exhibits the pictures on his home page on the Web)
so that he can feel something real, but unlike the doomed Donny, the reincarnation of the abused S&M fantasist, Gary, in
Ravenhill's previous play, he is no loser: he is off to broker a deal to sell virtual reality to future generations. The
predominantly young audiences that crowded the Court each night of Shopping And Fucking's West End sell-out run saw
their own lives reflected up their on the stage no less than the hordes of merchant bankers that besieged Sloane Square
10 years ago when Caryl Churchill's City satire, Serious Money, was playing. Only, unlike those self-congratulatory
bankers, I suspect the present generation got the dark joke of Shopping And Fucking, just as they will instantly recognise
the hightech, video-watching, Net-surfing world of Faust and understand the supreme irony of a world where God is not
just dead but the individual is God. This is, after all, the generation that has turned irony into both a form of protection
and an art form. Ravenhill is their artist. Watch how far he will go.
copyright 2004