This week’s grown-up show excursion saw Mummy ticking off another fringe venue with her first visit to the Drayton Arms Theatre. She was there to review Netflix & Chill, a new play (written by Tom Stocks and directed by Luke Adamson) which explores male mental health and the effect of toxic masculinity.
The story centres around Ben (played by Stocks himself), a working class chef who’s having a horrible week. As if trying to reignite a relationship with his estranged Mum (Julie Binysh) wasn’t enough, his dates keep cancelling on him and at work he finds himself picking up the slack for lazy colleague Ryan (Joseph Lindoe). To make matters worse, Ryan has no problem picking up girls, including Ben’s childhood friend and secret crush Sophie (Emily Ellis). Ben can’t talk to Ryan about his feelings. Lads don’t do that. They drink, do drugs and boast about their sexual misadventures. But what’s really going on inside their heads?
Netflix & Chill lifts the lid on male mental health, exploring everything from Ben’s feelings about his Mum to the thoughts that go through his head when he finally embarks on a first date with Sophie. It’s dark in places, with particularly hard-hitting scenes at the end of each Act, the first of which involves an incredibly intense performance from Stocks. In between these scenes, there is a lot of skating around the issues, with some of the storylines seeming underdeveloped (and the Mum sub-plot in particular feeling unfinished). In part this is intentional, reflecting the reality that people tend to downplay mental health and don’t open up about their problems. While we are distracted by the obvious issues in Ben’s life, the real warning signs are more subtle, leaving everyone reeling at the end.
Adamson’s direction makes full use of the intimate space, enhanced by some very effective lighting from JLA Productions. The cast all excel in their roles, though both Julie Binysh and Charlotte Price feel underutilised. Stocks puts in a powerful performance, switching effortlessly between laddish banter, anger and vulnerability. He has an air of James Corden about him, which he acknowledges in a gag that lands particularly well. In tackling a subject as serious as suicide there is a real need for humour, which Netlflix & Chill offers in abundance, particularly in the awkward dating scene from which the play gets its name. A lot of the comedy is crude and cringeworthy, but intentionally so, realistically reflecting the bravado of lad culture. It’s funny and sad all at the same time. The one thing that isn’t entirely effective, however, is the use of recorded voice-overs to give an insight into the characters’ thoughts. Mummy felt that it would have worked better if these lines were delivered live in a (whisper it) Fleabag style breaking of the fourth wall.
Overall, it was an enjoyable evening, with plenty to laugh at despite the serious subject-matter. Netflix & Chill is a truly thought-provoking play which shines a spotlight on the taboo topic of male mental health. Though it feels underdeveloped in places, it is a promising piece of work which has the hallmarks of something that could be excellent.
RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers and Kittens (aka 3 out of 5 of my favourite things).
Netflix & Chill is playing at the Drayton Arms Theatre from 11 to 29 February 2020.