NSFW

  • Our critic's rating:
    Average press rating:
    Date:
    Wednesday, October 31, 2012
    Review by:
    Peter Brown

    The print sector of the media – newspapers, in particular – have been subjected to close scrutiny recently. The Leveson Inquiry in particular provided some great drama and not a little comedy when media moguls, politicians and celebrities alike appeared for detailed questioning. Writer Lucy Kirkwood obviously saw that there is still plenty of mileage for comedy in the media, but focuses here on magazines rather than the tabloid dailies, and posing questions with implications which range beyond a single industry.

    There seem to be very few staff in the offices of men's magazine 'Doghouse'. And the staff are hardly there by choice. Rupert is a reporter who gets sent on 'man challenges' such as dieting and sleep deprivation. He is a former public school boy with a trust fund who is only working for the magazine at the insistence of his rich daddy. Charlotte seems a general factotum and editor's assistant who just wants to pay her rent and not be on benefits like the rest of her friends. And Sam is a naïve young reporter who expends most of his energy on fetching coffee, but still has principles in spite of the pressures of the cut-throat world he finds himself working in.

    Forty-something Aidan (played by Julian Barratt) is the editor of 'Doghouse' and returns to his office with a newly printed and framed photograph of the 'Local Lovely' which features a young woman with naked breasts. Apparently the magazine has been running a competition and 'Carrie' is the winner. Unfortunately for Aidan and the rest of the staff, it turns out that Carrie is only 14 and the photo has been sent in by her 15 year-old boyfriend. Aidan has then to meet with Carrie's distraught father, Mr Bradshaw, who is savagely brow-beaten by Aidan into taking a paltry pay-off to avoid litigation. But buying-off Mr Bradshaw is not the only cost. Sam, as the reporter who selected the competition winner, must lose his job. And we next meet up with him after months of unemployment when he is being interviewed for another low-paid job, this time for a women's magazine.

    There are enjoyable performances all-round here, thanks to well-written characters and deft direction by Simon Godwin. Julian Barratt has a seemingly effortless style of acting, almost casual in a way, which is all the more effective when he launches into a brutal and heartless attack on Mr Bradshaw. Janie Dee, as Miranda, is the well-heeled editor of 'Electra' magazine who calls Sam 'lovely' almost as a put-down and harbours a heartless streak almost as wide as her rival editor, Aidan. But Sacha Dhawan pretty-much steals the show as the twenty-four year-old Sam, who stalwartly refuses to cast aside his principles, but in the end has to capitulate in the face of unscrupulous pressure and his desperation for paid employment.

    It would be easy to view 'NSFW' as merely an attack on the ethos of magazine journalism. For sure, the editors treat both their employees and their readership – as well as women in general - with considerable contempt. But this play has wider implications. Lucy Kirkwood's focus seems to be on the plight of junior staff who have to endure the double whammy of low pay (or none at all) and demeaning duties. The clue is to be found in the title. If you are wondering what it means, it is an acronym for 'Not Safe For Work' – apparently used to warn message recipients that material should not be viewed while at work. But in this context it is used in a rather different way. Short, at around 75 minutes (without an interval), 'NSFW' is succinctly, but effectively written and well-produced. Very funny at times, it also embodies more emotionally excruciating moments, with thought-provoking undertones about the nature and meaning of work, especially for those on the lowest rungs of the career ladder.

     

    "Bright, sharp, funny...I came out pleasantly entertained but still wishing there was more savagery behind Kirkwood's palpable indignation. "
    Michael Billington for The Guardian

    "A savvy and deeply uncomfortable look at the world of modern media....and is studded with moments of outrageous humour. "
    Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard

    "Directed with buoyancy and bite by Simon Godwin. "
    Paul Taylor for The Independent

    " A cracking piece, sharp, funny...This is a richly absorbing and inventive play. "
    Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph

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