NSFW, Royal Court Downstairs, London
deadkidsongs, Ustinov Studios, Bath
Uncle Vanya, Vaudeville Theatre, London

Lucy Kirkwood's witty media satire takes an astute look at sexism in the magazine industry

On a shelf in the editor's office sits a "Do not disturb" sign, seemingly forgotten. Julian Barratt's Aidan hasn't thought to hang it on his door in Lucy Kirkwood's edgy new satire NSFW (acronym for "Not Safe for Work" in online parlance). As the commissioning editor at Doghouse, a fictional lads' mag, Aidan is snogging his twentysomething underling, Charlotte, when another young hireling, Rupert, bursts in.

Esther Smith's Charlotte scrambles off the sofa but none of them is terribly embarrassed. Scrupulous professionalism is not expected here. Barratt's scruffy Aidan, in trendy trainers, lets Rupert (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) – a rich kid with a famous pater – give him cheek.

Meanwhile, Oxbridge graduate Charlotte says that, after slave-labour internships, she's not bothered by the rag's sexism so long as her rent is paid. She scarcely bats an eyelid at the poster of a topless model which Aidan sticks on the wall. He declares it sales-boosting, terrific stuff, admiring the girl-next-door quality of the image, which has just won Doghouse's best-boobs photo competition.

He has made a potentially ruinous mistake, however. His picture editor, Sacha Dhawan's Sam, is a nervously assiduous new boy, and the model was underage. To save his own skin, Aidan needs to silence her furiously protesting father (Kevin Doyle).

The strength of NSFW, premiered by director Simon Godwin, lies in its unsettling shifts between office sitcom and seriously unpleasant power games. In a short chamber piece, the writer manages to raise big questions about the fourth estate, dilapidated moral standards, today's financial exigencies, and what's happened to egalitarian feminism. What's more, the ethos is no better when those laid off by Aidan fetch up at a glossy women's mag, only to jump through hoops for Janie Dee's Miranda, a slinky exec who dismisses anyone who questions her narrow definitions of beauty.

In this production, no character is one-dimensionally vile. Dee's hardnosed Miranda suggests self-hatred, and Barratt oscillates between decent impulses and bullying manoeuvres. Under Dominic Cooke's leadership, The Royal Court has promoted female dramatists, and Kirkwood proves rewardingly witty and culturally astute.

In deadkidsongs, based on Toby Litt's novel of the same name, it's the 1970s and a gang of schoolboys are playing war games in the woods. Fantasising about hunting down Ruski invaders, they are led by Andrew whose macho, psychotic dad they naively revere. Adaptor-director Gary Sefton's cast of adult actors somersault and shin up the set's flexing tree trunks, perching in dens amid the branches and rat-a-tat-tatting with their toy guns. With more than a touch of Lord of the Flies and Blue Remembered Hills, this is going to turn horrifically savage.

Sefton reduces all the grown-up characters to wooden, prerecorded voices, and there is a sickening predictability to the gory conclusion when Kate Lamb's Miranda determines to be one of the boys. Nonetheless, this is a powerfully grim piece of theatre, with outstanding performances by Lamb, Colin Ryan as the coerced scaredy-cat Peter, and Leander Deeny as the snuffling, spasmodically feral Andrew.

By contrast, in Uncle Vanya, Doctor Astrov is avidly planting trees to protect the environment and wildlife. This amateur arbiculturalist, campaigning against deforestation, always seems extraordinarily prescient, if not way ahead of his time in Chekhov's portrait of provincial Russian life, from 1899. Alas, much else is snail-paced in Lindsay Posner's star-cast but disappointing West End production.

It looks as if a sizeable copse has been felled to construct the hefty, decoratively carved wooden house on Vanya's family estate and, consequently, every scene change is lumbering (most uncharacteristic for set designer Christopher Oram). The cast's slow pacing is enervating as well, particularly Anna Friel's as the unhappily married beauty, Yelena. There's insufficient simmering passion generated. Everyone's speeches seem oddly disconnected, lacking directorial joined-up thinking.

Only Ken Stott's Vanya manages to build an explosive head of steam, trying to exterminate his infuriatingly successful brother-in-law (Paul Freeman) only to prove a farcically hopeless shot. Act Four is worth the wait, with Stott, Samuel West's Astrov and Laura Carmichael's overlooked Sonya attaining a delicate balance of despair, regret and stoicism. Nonetheless, it's a long haul before that.

Posner's timing is also unfortunate, given that Lucy Bailey's recent off-West End Vanya was sizzlingly intimate and far more witty, and that tomorrow the Vakhtangov Theatre's rival Russian production (see feature, overleaf) opens at the Noel Coward, threatening to steal Posner's thunder.

'NSFW' (020-7565 5000) to 24 Nov; 'deadkidsongs' (01225 448844) to 17 Nov; 'Uncle Vanya' (0844 412 4663) to 16 Feb

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz