The Play

NSFW at The Royal Court

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Want to know what really goes on behind the scene at men's magazines? Lucy Kirkwood's new play at The Royal Court in London gives a semi-accurate, fully funny insight in the workings of publications in no way like this one.

The first half of the play is set in a fictional magazine called Doghouse, which as you'll probably surmise from its title, is at the lower end of the men's magazine spectrum. And who do you employ as editor of a fictional magazine? Why The Mighty Boosh's Julian Barratt, who of course has previous experience on Sugarape, though this time he's been promoted to editor. The main item on the day's agenda is dealing with the angry father of a 14-year-old girl whose boyfriend has falsely entered her into the magazine's "real women" babe pageant (not unlike a certain real-life one we know), which she happens to have won. Cue moral dilemmas all-round, and some Machiavellian machinations from said ed, all of which make everyone involved, and perhaps humanity itself, look crummy and sad.

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For the second act of the two-act play, Kirkwood, whose previous dramatic works include Tinderbox and Hedda, turns her attention to glossy women's magazines. There a heartbroken intern (played touchingly by Sacha Dawan, one of the first cast of The History Boys alongside James Corden and Dominic Cooper) has migrated from Doghouse in pursuit of journalistic purity and a way to pay his rent and is doing his best to get the editor to give him a job. Unlike Doghouse's slightly seedy chief, Electra magazine is run by a terrifyingly glamorous glossy blonde (and those, we can confirm, certainly do exist) who uses a different but equally amoral set of whiles to manipulate her interlocutor into doing what she wants.

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NSFW is frothy and amusing and trips along nicely enough, though the jabs it makes - that journalists can be callous and ethics can be forgotten - are nothing that the Leveson Inquiry hasn't already made abundantly clear. Equally, the final comic twist - a heavily ironic choice of fancy dress costume donned by Electra's editor (a magnificent Janie Dee) - is visible a veritable mile away. But there's a strong cast, a whip-crack pace and plenty of satire for those who read and work at in-no-way-comparable publications to enjoy.

NSFW is The Royal Court, London, until 24 November, royalcourttheatre.com

Below from top: Janie Dee as Electra's editor, Miranda; Sacha Dawan (right) and Henry Lloyd-Hughes (left) as Doghouse's junior staff; Esther Smith as Doghouse staffer Charlotte tries to appease disgruntled father Mr Bradshaw, played by Kevin Doyle

Photos by Stephen Cummiskey