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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court Theatre


  Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Sacha Dhawan/ Ph: Stephen Cummiskey

What might a suffragette think if she were to walk into the offices of Electra magazine, the women’s glossie in which the second half of Lucy Kirkwood’s effervescent new play is set? Might she gasp in horror at the articles devoted to shampoo, moisturiser and low calorie salad dressing religiously served up to nourish the brains of its female readership, and the care with which photographs of models are meticulously airbrushed before publication? And might she be even more aghast to learn that the staff of this sort of magazine is always predominantly female, women journalists as single-mindedly obsessed with how they look as they are with impressing upon their readers the finer points of Botox or the latest diet fad?
Kirkwood’s play takes a much-needed, all-too-brief look at the body fascism of today’s magazine culture. It begins in the laddish offices of Doghouse, a low rent lads rag whose annual highlight is the Local Lovelies competition, which offers young women the chance to appear topless inside the magazine. Except the winner this year is 14, entered by her boyfriend who forged the consent form, much to the horror of intern Sam (Sacha Dhawan), who is consumed with guilt for having unwittingly decided that of all the entries, the best breasts belonged to an underage girl. And now her father, Mr Bradshaw (Kevin Doyle), having somehow spotted his semi-naked daughter inside Doghouse, is on the rampage.
Cut to Electra, where Janie Dee’s slightly vampiric editor Miranda is giving the hapless Sam an interview, which mainly consists of testing his ability to find flaws in seemingly perfect female bodies. Poor Sam, desperate for a job in journalism, is just as out of his depth in the perfumed, stiletto-pockmarked environs of Electra as he was among the testosterone-fuelled bear pit of Doghouse. Yet, as Miranda silkily points out, the job climate is so difficult these days. And so Sam, like every character in this waspish little satire, makes a compromise.
Kirkwood’s play is not perfect. Sam wouldn’t last five seconds in either office; too much of the plot is at the service of the themes; at 80 minutes it feels a bit skinny. But Kirkwood has more to say than men's mags are bad because they objectify women, and glossies print unrealistic images of perfect women. She cleverly implicates the entire culture in the relentless and all-pervasive sexualisation of female bodies, from Esther Smith’s Charlotte, the Oxford graduate employee willing to "deal with a few tits here and there" at Doghouse if it means getting paid, to the teenager who wants to grow up to be a glamour model; from the female editor effectively waging war on her own gender to the men and women buying the damn mags in the first place.
Simon Godwin’s production fizzes with such comic energy you sometimes nearly forget that this is an entirely serious play: an utterly of-the-moment critique of the often ignored way in which women are often just as complicit in their self-commodification as men are, they’re just a little less honest about it. Among a top-notch cast, Julian Barratt cleverly avoids coming across as a complete monster as Aidan, Doghouse’s slimy editor, while Henry Lloyd-Hughes captures the bovine self-entitlement of "trustafarian" journalist Rupert. At one point Aidan suggests to Mr Bradshaw that if he is that disgusted with the "mucky" politics of the magazine world, he should take a bath. This play, in which everything is for sale, makes you want to do the same thing.


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