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NSFW

Published 1 November 2012

Not Safe For Work. Not Safe For Women more like. From lads’ mags to impossibly pretty but apparently imperfect female bodies, Lucy Kirkwood’s new comedy is a barrage of verbal woman-bashing.

It is certainly reassuring to know that a play brimming with such derogatory substance has been penned by a woman. Though some of the playwright’s characters are likely to find flaws in her feminine form – be those wrinkles, imperfections or muffin tops – less can be said of the play itself, which packs a witty and pert-inent punch in Simon Godwin’s production at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.

Set in “the space between the boobs”, NSFW opens the doors to the headquarters of Doghouse magazine, the editor of which finds himself in a somewhat sticky situation when he discovers that he’s published a picture of a half-naked 14-year-old girl in the pages of his publication. To make matters worse, the girl’s father is threatening to take legal action, sending waves of panic and dread through the office.

A physical embodiment of such dread, Sacha Dhawan’s geeky romantic Sam is a genuine and honest soul who – though endearing to the audience – is worth little to his patronising and manipulative editor Aidan, who is injected with a peppering of intimidation by star and co-writer of The Mighty Boosh Julian Barratt.

Henry Lloyd-Hughes’ performance as Eton graduate Rupert merges an outward brash and rebellious swagger with an internal vulnerability as he struggles to gain credence as anything more than an a guinea pig on which to try out various hare-brained editorial ideas, while Esther Smith’s obedient Charlotte appears to have a promising future in journalism ahead of her, though perhaps her imminent scaling of the employment ladder isn’t solely as a result of her writing ability.

As Tom Pye’s imposing set transforms and Janie Dee’s harsh and provocative Miranda is introduced, Kirkwood’s tale becomes less about the fate of one magazine and more about the journey of a single individual whose search for employment – despite his master’s degree – is a never-ending series of degrading unpaid internships.

Whether it’s employment ethics or the portrayal of the female body in the media, NSFW paints a striking and realistic portrait of modern society, which will leave you questioning just what sort of people are behind the magazine you next pick up off the shelf.

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