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Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Lucy Kirkwood's sparky new play is not about all four points of the compass with a bit missing off the "E," nor is the title a modest, self-critical acronym for "Not So Flipping Wonderful" after all; it's a reference to on-line material - "Not Safe For Work" - which might embarrass you if viewed at your desk in office, school or factory.

Actually, it's a bit of a misnomer, because the play's not really about pornography but the kind of mainstream lads' magazines that are big on bikes and breasts, and the kind of popular girls' magazines that circle flawed body parts in red ink and write crude comments in bubble captions.

Kirkwood's identified a large target about which we're all in agreement, even, I imagine, the people who read this bilge. And that's both the play's weakness and the source of its strength, in showing how the media culture weakens the resolve of the intelligent people who work within it.

In the first half (of a very short, slightly under-nourished 80-minute evening), Julian Barratt of the Mighty Boosh is keeping "Doghouse" afloat with his Local Lovelies competition. But there's trouble brewing when this month's winner turns out to be seriously under-age and her father comes storming into the West End from Manchester carrying a plastic bag and a note from his lawyer.

Barratt's sidekicks include Henry Lloyd-Hughes as posh Rupert (his trust fund status means he can do and say what he likes) and Sacha Dhawan as Sam, a more principled journalist who is deeply in love with his girlfriend and has a long speech about getting married that excludes him from the next "man challenge" jaunt.

The irate father (Kevin Doyle) is easily out-foxed by Barratt's overweening, vicious editor, but his colleagues have jumped ship when the play moves - in a brilliant design coup by Tom Pye - from the lads' enclave to the cool, curtained premises of "Electra" magazine where Janie Dee almost pulls off a killer turn as Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, though she looks far more like the strangely attractive Emma Soames.

Janie Dee in NSFW. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
Dee's poise and beauty carry her through an unlikely transformation scene, following the sight of Rupert undergoing Botox treatment (so a man experiences what women suffer, ho-hum; we just had all that on this stage, thanks, with Stephen Mangan giving birth in a Joe Penhall play) and emerging as Mrs Thatcher (oh no, not her again) and Sam wavering on a point of crummy editorial practice.

Simon Godwin's production is slick and funny. He and Kirkwood have probably come up with something of great appeal to a media-savvy metropolitan younger generation, and Barratt once again proves (as he did in The Government Inspector at the Young Vic) that you sometimes don't have to be an actor to get away with acting well; he's wonderfully relaxed on the stage, and perfectly audible.

But for all its satirical rib-tickling and post-feminist insistence that there's nothing immoral in going on and on about people's (mostly women's) physical appearance, there remains something deeply unsavoury about the play, and deeply rotten in the state of fashion and celebrity journalism, especially those branches of it that can't even be bothered to go beyond the private parts to rumble the private lives.


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