Even if you can’t forgive Mark Ravenhill for leaden sitcom Vicious whose gay geriatrics are about to bed-block a primetime slot again on ITV, his movie-industry-meets-muslim-cell monologue Product gets a much better airing in Olivia Poulet’s masterclass rendition at the Arcola.
Pitching to an unseen star named ‘Julia’ – and you so hope it’s Roberts when Poulet’s producer character Leah wheedles ‘this is a three dimensional character … I’d love to see you do three dimensional again’ before outlining a script of such cringeworthy awfulness, Max Bialystock would have tossed it on the reject pile.
‘Mohammed and Me’ parodies Hollywood’s ability to feed on the most rank carrion and monetise it: a ‘love story’ featuring a young American woman’s racist lust for the ‘dusky’ head of an Islamic terror cell, and her eventual desire to partner him in his suicidal journey to paradise. Bridget Jones’s Jihadi Diary.
It reminded me of how many flight attendants used to be infatuated with an Arabic passenger met on layover in Dubai – in fact among BA crews there was even a shorthand code for them – MMDs. It means ‘My Mohammed is Different’. Ravenhill pierces his black comedy with sharp darts about product placement (Versace’s on board), actorly posturing and how everyone in movie land has lost a grip on reality.
The plot feels dusty when Osama Bin Laden visits the terrorists, and graces the character with a kiss on the forehead. Maybe topical in 2005, but now stale and awkward when an update to contemporary ISIS grooming could have made it sharper – imagine how much more electric it could be if the man she’d fancied was ‘Jihadi John‘.
Poulet is as authentic and engaging as the 50-minute script allows, shifting tempo and constantly rebooting the energy to hold the audience’s attention. Her timing is impeccable, and you warm to her so much you almost want her crazed project to be green-lit.
@paulinlondon and I made our habitual just-out-0f-the-theatre AudioBoom. Listen here.
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