Stage

NSFW theatre review (Red Stitch, Melbourne)

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For those unfamiliar with internet lingo, NSFW stands for “Not Safe For Work”. It’s a label usually placed on content that’s particularly graphic or sexual; the stuff you wouldn’t want your workmates catching you looking at over your shoulder. In British playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s timely NSFW, we’re exposed to a world of magazines where women are objectified, privacy is invaded and values are abandoned, all to make a profit. These workplaces aren’t safe for anybody, especially those most vulnerable.
Doghouse, a men’s magazine, has picked their new girl-next-door in an amateur modelling competition. They’re thrilled with their choice of Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City, anybody?) a beautiful, kind-hearted, innocent, but very “well-developed” girl. Of course, controversy isn’t far around the corner when they find out her pictures were submitted without her knowledge, by her boyfriend, who forged the consent forms. Then her father happens to stumble across his daughter’s breasts in his favourite mag. She’s only 14 years old.
The staff are thrown into different degrees of panic. There’s editor Aidan (Ben Prendergast), who’s desperate to weasel his way out of potential legal problems, Sam (Matthew Whitty) the assistant/aspiring writer who picked Carrie and is now sickened by his actions, Charlotte (Kasia Kaczmarek) the feminist who’s constantly trying to reconcile her values with her line of work, and Rupert (Mark Casamento) the crass, privileged writer, who makes it abundantly clear he doesn’t need this job.
The magazine goes into damage-control mode; Sam loses his job and Aidan has a fiery meeting with Mr Bradshaw (James Wardlaw) where he does everything he can to keep the story quiet. In the end, Mr Bradshaw accepts a hefty payout to keep his mouth shut. Apparently you can put a price on a young girl’s dignity.
About two-thirds through the play, the action jumps forward a few months and we see Sam applying for a new job at Electra, a women’s magazine. Here, he discovers that women are being exploited and denigrated as much as they were at Doghouse, but in very different ways.
Director Tanya Dickson’s production is generally strong, and she manages to maintain the requisite levity to make the comedy work. Eugyeene Teh’s set evokes a kind of loud elegance, and his costumes are perfect for every character.
Sam and Charlotte are the only two characters who genuinely deserve our sympathy. They want to be writers, more than anything in the world, but somewhere along the way that dream has become pretty hazy. They’re trying to establish themselves in what we’re constantly reminded is a brutal climate. Matthew Whitty and Kasia Kaczmarek give the best performances in these roles, both sacrificing themselves and having their optimism heartbreakingly crushed.
Olga Makeeva as Miranda (another Sex and the City reference, or perhaps The Devil Wears Prada), the editor of Electra, is as intimidating as she is passionate. Ben Prendergast’s Aidan is calmly collected, but shaken when disaster arises. James Wardlaw delivers pathos as Mr Bradshaw, and his dilemma is palpable.
Mark Casamento’s Rupert is oddly shrill and overplayed, probably due to a poor directorial choice. Kirkwood gives him some fairly outrageous lines, but they don’t need to be played quite so outrageously.
Kirkwood could afford to be a little more explicit in her indictment on the media landscape, but all of her punches land, albeit quietly. We see the damage being done, not in any great malicious action, but in the seemingly innocuous choices made by those at the top of the ladder. It’s a terrifying and genuinely upsetting state of affairs.
[box]NSFW plays Red Stitch Actors Theatre until 21 December. Tickets are available at redstitch.net[/box]

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