NSFW

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NSFW
© Stephen Cummiskey
Julian Barratt (Aiden) in NSFW

Call me a loathsome media parasite, but it's hard not to feel a morsel of sympathy for Julian Barratt's self-serving lads' mag editor Aidan, chief protagonist of Lucy Kirkwood's new play.

The predicament that he finds himself in – his Nuts-esque weekly has accidentally published a topless picture of a 14-year-old girl – may be one most journalists are blessedly unfamiliar with. But the world Kirkwood paints – a shrinking print media, in which embarrassingly overqualified graduates fight desperately for the limited jobs available – rings painfully true in Simon Godwin's bright, breezy production.

The title 'NSFW' (it means not safe for work) may allude to the content of Aidan's magazine Doghouse, but I suspect Kirkwood is using the acronym as a play on the employability of a generation of graduates. Here the younger characters represent the whole spectrum: Charlotte (played with perky self-loathing by Esther Smith), has a first from Oxbridge and is grateful to have any job at all; Rupert (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), is an obnoxious trust fund kid who sees deadlines as optional; and Sam (Sacha Dhawan) is a sweet lad trapped in a grisly cycle of unpaid internships.

'NSFW' is a short play, with a main plot that culminates in Aidan's odiously manipulative attempts to stop the topless girl's father from taking legal action. That's followed by a sting-in-the-tale final sequence in which the hapless Sam stumbles into the equally awful world of a Heat-style women's mag (edited by Janie Dee's monstrous Miranda).

It's a fairly nihilistic survey of modern gender politics and the parlous state of print media, but Kirkwood cushions it by retaining a note of empathy for even her worst characters. Aidan and Miranda may be awful, but we can see how the world made them this way – they aren't responsible for society's perception of women, they reflect it.

Above all it's extremely funny: Mighty Boosh man Barratt is beautifully low key as an avuncular survivor whose mild manner belies the fact he will say and do anything to preserve his hide. And after the comparatively understated Doghouse scenes, Dee's gorgonic Miranda ends things with some welcome comic fireworks.

I'm not sure Kirkwood has much more to tell us than 'we're fucked'. But she sugars the pill well.

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