Theatre review - NSFW

Posted on: 12 November 2012 by Agatha Cheng

Laurence Green reviews the dark comedy of power games and privacy in the media world.

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Power games and privacy in the cut-throat media world are explored by Lucy Kirkwood in her excellent new dark comedy NSFW (an abbreviation of “Not Safe For Work”) at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre.

The first two scenes are set at Doghouse, a crass and vulgar lads’ magazine, edited by the sceptical and scheming 40-somethinf Aidan who trades cynical quips with his young team, while holding his unsophisticated readership in complete contempt. The publication and its future are threatened, however, when a photo of a naked 14-year-old girl, sent in by her boyfriend without her consent, is printed in the magazine. Her irate father fails to succumb to Aidan’s suave chat and trickery and is determined to take legal action – that is until a cheque for £25,000 is waved in front of him.

We then move forward nine months to the slick offices of glossy women’s magazine Electra, run by smooth-tongued glamourpuss Miranda. At Doghouse men betray women, here it is women who betray women. Miranda is interviewing Sam, who has been sacked by Doghouse. Her questioning is unorthodox to say the least, and when she shows him a picture if a famous actress, she says “I need you to point out the ways in which this woman is not perfect”.

This absorbing 85-minute play could not be more topical with the current storm of shocking allegations about the television presenter Jimmy Savile following on from the furore over the publication of long-lens photos of the Duchess of Cambridge bathing topless and the continuing unease about contemporary attitudes to sex and celebrity. But Kirkwood’s sharply written satirical work manages to be both fresh and funny while, at a time when jobs in journalism are rapidly diminishing, pinpoints the compromises many people are ready to make to get ahead in the media industry.

Director Simon Godwin extracts perfectly-pitched performances from his fine cast, of whom Julian Barratt as Aidan, Janie Dee as Miranda, Sacha Dhawan as Sam, Henry Lloyd-Hughes as a Hoxton trustafarian and Esther Smith as a former graduate whom Aidan is pursuing for more than wordplay, make a particularly strong impression and manage to bring their characters vividly to life.

In all then this truthful, at times uncomfortable, yet always fascinating, play certainly deserves a West end transfer.

Runs until November 24
Box office: 020 7565 5000

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