NSFW, Royal Court, London

 

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The Independent Culture

NSFW stands for “not safe for work” - ie online material (predominantly porn) that a viewer might not want to be seen accessing in a public space.

This is not an acronym that would need to be invoked much, though, in the offices of Doghouse, a Nuts-style men's magazine, which is the setting for the first half of Lucy Kirkwood's black satire about power and privacy in the cut-throat era of Photoshop, internet exhibitionism and high graduate unemployment where over-qualified hopefuls can be obliged to degrade themselves to get a toe-hold in the recession-hit media.

“What I'm saying,” declares the raffishly venal editor, Aidan (excellent Julian Barratt) “is let's really live in the spaces between the boobs, yeah?” as he talks about re-positioning the mag for readers now ten years older than at the start with features, in the “Doghouse version” of the truth, about, say, “how I was dumped by Pippa Middleton”.

But then the busty, topless winner of their 2012 “Local Lovely” competition turns out to be a 14 year old girl whose consent forms were forged by her boyfriend.  

Directed with buoyancy and bite by Simon Godwin, the play dramatises two moral capitulations to devious temptation. In the first, Aidan emotionally blackmails the irate father (Kevin Doyle) into accepting £25,000 hush money.

Improbably, given the circumstances, the latter (divorced, jobless, ex-pest-control) has been admitted to being a regular “reader” of Doghouse which does not give him much weight in any argument about whether magazines such as this serve to create, rather than merely cater for, a culture in which pubescent girls have been known to ask Santa for “a Labradoodle and a boob job”.

It's more interesting once we move to the sleek white offices of Electra, a weekly for young women. Encased in the concrete of extreme glamour, Janie Dee's editor is a sublimely funny monster of flagrant bad faith and flirty, fake concern as she spouts her practised cant about a readership of upscale ABC1 females – “leaders, thinkers, dreamers, shoppers” – who want both a two-state solution in the Middle East and shoes, shoes, shoes. 

The cruel test she sets likeable 24 year old applicant Sam (Sacha Dhawan) proves that Electra is an extension rather than a rebuttal of Doghouse in its cynical objectification of the female sex. Esther Smith shines as the bright Oxford First who is so ashamed of working for the latter that she tells her women's group she's an estate agent. 

To 24 Nov; 0207 565 5000

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