• Drama
  • Written by Lucy Kirkwood
  • Directed by Matthew Neubauer
  • Cast: Alexander Lopez, Joe Callanan, Laura Pieters, Chris Alldridge, Grace Maria, Matt Aldridge
  • Lion and Unicorn Theatre, London
  • 31st July - 2nd August 2017
  • Review by Roger Mortimer
  • 31 July 2017
NSFW
2.0Overall Score

NSFW stands for “Not Safe For Work”, a warning added to certain websites that you might want to think twice before viewing them in the office (and don’t pretend you didn’t know that…) It’s also the title of a play by Lucy Kirkwood, who later went on to find fame with Chimerica. Though a less ambitious piece than that, NSFW is nevertheless a smart and funny look at contemporary media exploitation and hypocrisy.

Sam is a naive young intern at Doghouse, a lads’ mag feeling under the cosh as two similar publications have just gone under (prescient on Kirkwood’s part, as a quick Google search reveals that FHM, Zoo and Nuts didn’t fold until a couple of years after she wrote the play). In addition to regular features such as “Man challenge”, in which whoever in the office draws the short straw has to do something pointlessly  unpleasant and write about it, there’s always the magazine’s meat and drink – topless pictures of young women sent in by their boyfriends, hopefully with their consent, but realistically how can they be expected to check every time…

The second half finds Sam seeking new employment at glossy women’s magazine Electra, only to find that as part of his interview he’s expected to examine paparazzi photos of famous beauties on the beach and highlight their supposed flaws. “But she’s perfect! She was one of Doghouse’s Top 10 Babes last year!” he protests.

Kirkwood’s point that both industries are two sides of the same body-shaming coin is well taken, and it’s a nice touch that the editor of Electra beomans the “culture” that lads’ mags create without seeing her own part in it. However, I can’t say the play gets a great performance here. The relentlessly frantic pace is wearing before long, and Joe Callanan as the nervous Sam is merely cartoonish, as are Chris Alldridge as trustafarian posho Rupert and Grace Maria as Electra editor Miranda. Moreover, the scene near the end where she gets ready for the party while providing her own musical accompaniment is excruciating – was this the result of a last-minute discovery that they couldn’t get the sound to work?

Best of the actors is Alexander Lopez as amoral Doghouse editor Aidan, and above all Laura Pieters as his assistant Charlotte – a shame that she has the least to do, her role most being to stay silent and convey through facial expression alone that she wishes she were anywhere but here.

About The Author

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Roger has written several plays, which have been performed as far afield as Warsaw, Prague, Pittsburgh and Buenos Aires. One of them, Guilty Secret, has been published by Oberon Modern Plays. He directed his own first play, Why Don’t You Just Sing Jazz?, on the last night of the Grimeborn Festival of Alternative Opera at the Arcola Theatre in 2009. He is the founder and Artistic Director of Two Sheds theatre company, for which he has produced and co-directed Torben Betts' Muswell Hill, Edward Bond's Black Mass and Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa!

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