NSFW at Royal Court Theatre

Lucy Kirkwood’s new play somehow manages to be both subtle and blatant in its examination of consumers and journalists in the magazine industry. This tricky dichotomy is what makes her writing here so satisfying and beyond that, the contents of her play: her scene selection, her range of characters, and her ideas are all interesting. But the questions she asks aren’t big enough.

For me, the most interesting idea she looks at is the times we ignore our gut feelings and refer to a ready-packaged way of consuming a situation. There is also a multi-dimensional discussion of money, who has it and what it dictates to those creating the magazines and those buying them. Most interesting though, is the use of the characters to depict that we each have the good and the bad of it all in us.

The story follows a few recent graduates making their way in magazine journalism whose first stop (first paid stop at least) is a stint on Doghouse. It’s at this lads mag that Aidan (the fantastic Julian Barratt), a collar and Converse-wearing editor, shows them the morally knot-ridden ropes of print journalism in the digital age.

Sam (Sacha Dhawan, bloody adorable), is too earnest and romantic to really make it at Doghouse but he gives it a good go. Similarly, Charlotte (Esther Smith), a gender-focused Oxford grad, opines about the joys of actually getting paid, her politics aside; while Rupert (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) whose trust fund allows him to have a more cavalier attitude expounds the issues of class. So when Sam mistakenly puts a topless fourteen year-old on the cover, the place almost implodes with power struggles, moral debate, sexual vulnerability as well as an irate parent and a guilt-ridden writer.

Flash forward a little and Sam is interviewing for a position at a Grazia-esque women’s magazine, the editor of which (tellingly called Miranda) is just as full of bravado as Aidan. Played with a controlled ferocity by Janie Dee, she has the same compulsive need to explain the cool, hard logic around her harsh job.

NSFW, directed flawlessly by Simon Godwin, approaches this with almost stereotypical imagery and humour but it also challenges these moments of confidence with Lucy’s text and Tom Pye’s glossy, cheeky deisgn, just not enough. There is for example, the way the audiences for these two magazines are described in marketing terms and the way our most negative thoughts are preyed upon but this should have been pushed at hard enough to leave a lasting bruise which it doesn’t.

Aside from questions about consumerism, feminisms and exploitation, I find her ideas around the lives of the journalists outside their work more interesting than their lives in the office. What does Charlotte say to her women’s group? Is Miranda always this full of crap? How does Aidan deal with the lies he tells himself and does Rupert feel as secure about his future as we do?

It’s true that NSFW could have tackled these with more gusto but I kind of like that Lucy’s left it up to us to consider.

NSFW runs at Royal Court Theatre until 24th November

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