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 The TheatreguideLondon Review


NSFW
Royal Court Theatre  Autumn 2012

Like most satires, Lucy Kirkwood's new play has serious points to make behind its comedy, and like most satires it is occasionally heavy-handed and occasionally scattershot in its targeting. 

But it makes its points, it hits its targets, and it is both funny and thought-provoking. 

We open in the office of a downmarket lads' magazine and watch the editor casually manipulate and exploit his staff, who make it clear that only the fear of unemployment keeps them working at this scuzzy place and accepting his abuse. 

(Kirkwood's title is an online acronym for Not Safe For Work, a warning tag applied to e-mails containing something you wouldn't want someone to spot over your shoulder in the office. One of her play's points is that some workplaces are NSFW.) 

The real action of this part of the play begins when they discover that one of the featured topless models in this month's issue is under age, and her father is on the rampage. We watch with an uneasy mix of admiration and revulsion as the editor smoothly disarms the father, breaks down his moral position, and buys him off. 

Then the action shifts abruptly to an upmarket women's magazine, only to gradually discover that the elegant female editor there is just as tyrannical over her frightened staff and that her magazine, with its articles on make-up, dieting and relationships, is just as exploitative of women's bodies and as contemptuous of its readers as the T&A mag. 

That point that in their own way the stylish women's magazines are as pornographic as the lads' mags, as implicitly disdainful toward women, and considerably more hypocritical is Kirkwood's strongest and most resonant argument, the one that is likely to affect audience perceptions of the real world. It's no surprise that men's magazines are scuzzy, but you may not ever be able to look at a women's glossy the same way again.

Julian Barratt dominates the first half as the editor who is a slimy bastard but, we have to admit, really good at it, while Janie Dee plays his counterpart in the second half with an appropriately greater subtlety that means it takes a while for us to discover the depths of her spiritual ugliness. 

Esther Smith, Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Sacha Dhawan ably play the put-upon underlings, Smith helping us understand how a 21st-century woman could work for a lads' mag, and the other two carrying the weight of working for both bosses, and Kevin Doyle is sympathetic as the pathetic father.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - NSFW - Royal Court 2012  


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