Home / Drama / NSFW – Royal Court, London

NSFW – Royal Court, London

Writer: Lucy Kirkwood

Director: Simon Godwin

Reviewer: Michael Brown

[rating:4]

‘Not safe for work’ is a label attached to material, usually online, that you wouldn’t like your boss to see. But at the Royal Court and directed by the upcoming Simon Godwin, Lucy Kirkwood’s new play NSFW, the abbreviation of that label, is a play about what bosses do see and do in the cut-throat world of magazine publishing, but taken from two extremely different angles.

First of all we visit Doghouse, a lads mag along the lines of Nuts or Zoo, where their latest salacious scheme has blown up in their faces. Their latest topless pin-up, whose photos were submitted by her boyfriend, turns out to be completely unaware of the fact and is actually 14. But far from being staffed by pervy old men, the editorial team are made up of savvy media types, struggling graduates and trust-fund kids, who consider themselves well above the smut they peddle, though one of them must take the fall here.

So when the girl’s father comes in to complain, he faces a suave, slippery figure in editor Aidan, Julian Barratt in fine Machiavellian form, who browbeats him into submission with an insidiously convincing diatribe about paternal responsibility, society’s ills, the sexualisation of teenagers, anything to deflect his precious magazine from being blamed. Kevin Doyle’s father is excellent, bamboozled by the offensive and left reflecting on who is really at fault.

There is then an excellent reconfiguration of Tom Pye’s set as we move 9 months down the line and to women’s monthly publication Electra. All flowing curtains and clean white lines, this seems a world away from the casual misogyny of Doghouse, but something else sharper comes to light. Janie Dee’s highly glamorous editor Miranda is interviewing for a new position and the next applicant is Sam, the young man fired for the photographic boo-boo. But in this ostensibly kinder-to-women environment, it turns out that the female form is objectified just as much.

The task for the interview is to take a picture of a beautiful famous woman and highlight all her imperfections. When he demurs, Miranda stalks her office and prevails upon Sacha Dhawan’s essentially good Sam to examine the reasons for his recently failed relationship and turn this critical gaze onto the body of his idolised ex-girlfriend, to prove her point that no woman is perfect. He is torn between loyalty and the desire to get work, and this sense of the need or willingness of people to compromise greatly in this industry is something Kirkwood articulates extremely well.

The overall sense of NSFW is a little slight, it is a short play and doesn’t linger on any of its bases. It thrusts and parries with rapier-sharp insight but withdraws just as quickly, not quite achieving a depth of analysis – ie looking at the people buying these magazines or the people commissioning them – to match the keen sharpness of the writing and its black humour.

Photo: Stephen Cummiskey

Runs until 24th November

 

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