Review: NSFW (Not Safe for Work)

This weekend the Drama Barn presents Lucy Kirkwood’s NSFW (Not Safe for Work), directed by Rose Barslund and produced by Beth Sitek.

The play debuted in 2012 at The Royal Court Theatre and left a lasting impression as a challenge to attitudes towards sexuality and gender perpetuated by the media. These themes were addressed immediately in the barn before the play had even started by the astute choice of props, set and lighting. The meticulous attention to photo frames, pizza boxes and vodka bottles made the first act a visual delight, while the red lights oozed a certain sleaziness that was matched by the graphic dialogue of Rupert (Marcus Crabb). Crabb’s titillating performance of an unlikeable moneyed hack provided both comedy and a necessary contrast to the more serious characterisation of the reserved and intellectually frustrated Charlotte (Hattie Patten-Chatfield). His entrances and flagrant telephone antics were delivered with aplomb and served as a striking contrast to his more muted role as a botoxed, emasculated lackey in the second act.

George Abbott’s portrayal of Sam was both naturalistic and neurotic, a relatable representation of a young graduate venturing into the world of journalism. Chatfield’s deliberately contained physicality and lack of response to Aidan’s (George Rayson) mundane requests communicated inequality and palpable discomfort, while Rayson’s callous and derogatory remarks built a glass ceiling, and reduced family pride to cold hard cash. Hector Macduff’s quietly passionate performance as Mr Bradshaw provided an interesting counterpoint to the unrelenting cynicism of the Doghouse office, but ultimately seemed to reiterate the power of corporate manipulation and economic incentive.

The Drama Barn’s latest play may be a little un-pc, but the combination of entertaining talent and open discourse on pressing social attitudes makes it one to see

Despite the relatively fast pace of the play, the performance did lag in places. At times the mixture of acerbic comedy and jarring stage combat presented an non-believable relationship between the characters. The repartee was not quite sharp enough to sustain interest for the entire duration of the first act, which lingered on a fairly static scene and lost some of the initial pace present at the very beginning. However this was swiftly re-compensated by Ellie Ward’s entertaining performance of Miranda, who’s superficial exuberance was enhanced by a more subdued and desperate Sam. Ward’s obsequious tone and impeccable timing created unparalleled stage presence, effectively inverting the promise of a ‘feminist office’ into one as concerned with appearance and consumption as Doghouse. The tongue-in-cheek suffragette costume, complete with body control underwear and facial hair removal cream, provided an interesting visual metaphor for the role of women in media-orientated work places. A rough gem, the Drama Barn’s latest play may be a little un-pc, but the combination of entertaining talent and open discourse on pressing social attitudes makes it one to see.

*Photo by Carrie Morrison