Assembly Hall, Edinburgh
When it premiered at the Traverse Theatre in 2005, Mark Ravenhill’s Product starred the playwright himself as a desperate Hollywood producer, pitching a dreadful script to an actor who is clearly never going to take the part. I missed that version, but was delighted to have the opportunity to see director Robert Shaw’s revival of this sharp satire, this time with Olivia Poulet (Leah) delivering the monologue.
Poulet is perfectly cast; she oozes flattery and fake sincerity, skewering a character who believes that – if she just keeps talking, if she just keeps pretending – she will somehow manage to save her career and convince the actor to take the part. But the actor is us – the audience – and we can see through Leah’s posturing; indeed, the humour derives almost as much from Leah’s lack of self-awareness as it does from the increasingly ridiculous details she reveals from the script.
And how deliciously ridiculous those details are: the script emerges as a sexually explicit rom-com about Al Qaeda (improbably named Mohammed and Me), and there are laughs a-plenty as Leah attempts to make the prospect tempting. She focuses on the costume (Versace), the accommodation (a Docklands flat) – as if the actor will be as beguiled as Leah herself by the promise of such vicarious luxury.
I love this piece: I love its humour, its bite and – ultimately – its simplicity. I love the way that Ravenhill has somehow managed to construct a wonderfully written play mainly by writing an appalling film, and I love the vulnerability that Poulet brings to what is essentially an unsympathetic role. I’ve seen (and enjoyed) a lot of student productions during this year’s Fringe, but sometimes it’s good to see what a seasoned professional can do. Sterling stuff.