REVIEW: NSFW at the Royal Court

This article was first published on A Younger Theatre. To see the original review, please click here.

 

Image copywright Stephen Cummiskey. Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Sacha Dhawan in NSFW

NSFW explodes onto the Royal Court stage with the force of a firework. Split between a lads’ mag (Doghouse) and a women’s glossy (Electra), this is a play about gender in the cut-throat, dying world of print journalism.

Lucy Kirkwood’s Royal Court debut is impressive. By turns hilarious, ridiculous and amoral, Kirkwood’s dialogue is satisfyingly witty and deliciously incisive. The acronymic title refers to “not safe (or suitable) for work”. For those in the dark (as I was – thanks, footnoted title), this phrase is used to describe “online material which the viewer may not want to be seen accessing in a public or formal setting.” NSFW explores controversial material and decisions in the workplace.

From the off, this is a play about gender. Without being hackneyed or didactic, Kirkwood presents us with a range of deeply unsettling views of women or, more specifically, women’s bodies. She makes liberal use of gender stereotypes in the text, and designer Tom Pye complements this by cluttering the shelves of the Doghouse office with kitsch, sexual objects (a pouting-lipped phone, a corsetted female torso, etc). Aidan, editor of Doghouse, attempts to inspire his staff: “Let’s really live in the spaces between the boobs, yeah?” Electra editor Miranda publishes articles about ‘anti-wrinkle bras’. Even the first half’s central conflict revolves around a controversial pair of tits.

However, this is not just a show about gender. Kirkwood packs a great deal into the 85 minutes, and her characters, their voices and opinions are brilliantly familiar. Charlotte (Esther Smith) balances working at Doghouse with attending a “women’s group” (mysteriously unexplained). Essentially, she has compromised her morals for her career. Her defence will be all too familiar to 20-somethings in the Royal Court audience: “I did three years of unpaid work placements and internships before I came here and that’s fucking shit. Slave labour. Then I came here, which, yeah, it’s not like my dream or anything but it’s on my CV and I can pay my rent and yeah.”

By and large, NSFW boasts a strong cast, although the first ten minutes are a little undercooked and the younger actors take a while to warm up. I have no doubt this will vanish once the run is properly underway. Julian Barratt’s Aidan stands out – Barratt gives a finely judged performance: lean, charismatic and care-worn. I was surprised by how much I came away liking Aidan. On paper, he could be lecherous, immoral, and misogynistic but Barratt brings a wonderful ambivalence to the role and makes Aidan very human.

NSFW is by no means a flawless show. Miranda (Janie Dee), editor of Electra, is at times too pantomime and Cruella de Villian to be quite credible. Her character is both written and performed with a plastic, arch quality, and she lacks Aidan’s warmth. However, she brings a certain cruelty to the piece, and the ending is much darker for her presence. Overall, Simon Godwin has created an immensely satisfying show – deliciously slick, outrageous and asking important questions without dictating the answers.

NSFW is electric – and intoxicating. I have a feeling it is going to be a hit. There was a palpable atmosphere of this in the audience – and it isn’t every press night that gives an encore.

NSFW runs at the Royal Court Theatre in the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs until 24th November. For more information and tickets, please visit the Royal Court website: www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/NSFW

 

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About jsaedwards

Jessica Edwards is a young director and recent graduate of Oxford University. She works with new theatre company Flipping the Bird (go and see www.flippingthebird.co.uk). She is also a playwright, blogger and graphic designer.
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