“Boys don’t cry.” “Man up.” “Men don’t talk about their feelings.”
Netflix and Chill is on the surface a comedy of relationships, but it is also a crucial addition to the debate around male mental health.
Ben is overweight and anxious around girls. He tries to be one of the lads while obsessing over messages on his phone and what they mean.
We see him trying to build a relationship with the mother who has left an abusive relationship, deep in the laddish sex banter at work, struggling to function on a night out, navigating a disastrous date.
The play, in two acts seperated by an interval, feels underdeveloped at first, with too many storylines seeded for what is essentially an 85 minute piece. Act two is where the pieces start to slot more into place as we progress towards a shocking end scene.
The title is a misnomer, relating just to the awkward date in act two, and referring to the shorthand phrase used by younger people to initiate sex. Sexual intimacy is the only feeling men can fully express in this piece: first in Ben’s reticence, then in workmate Ryan’s serial shagging.
Both lead to long and convoluted stories. Ben recalls a paid encounter aged sixteen, abroad. Ryan has a tall tale which ends in a used condom on public transport. Both stories are paced and phrased for laughs.
The ladies in the piece are Ben’s mum, childhood friend Sophie, waitress Jill, and briefly, a Tinder hook-up. The first three try to break through the communication wall, but tough guys don’t need therapy.
Netflix and Chill is the debut play from Tom Stocks, who also plays Ben. It takes authentic working-class voices and places them in a blackly comic look at a topic which is becoming far more relevant. It rips open the stereotype of “wayyy the lads” and takes aim at cultural expectations.
Based in part on real events, Stocks has crafted a piece which still needs a bit of focusing in its early scenes, but which has an excellent second half with believable situations we can all identify with.
Luke Adamson directs and sound designs, with JLA doing the lighting which doesn’t really add that much. I also found the beginning of act two odd – perhaps this play would work better staged as one continuous piece rather than breaking after 45 minutes.
In utilising voiceover throughout to represent Ben’s thoughts (and, unnecessarily in one scene, Sophie’s) it invites us to question what we see in the everyday, but the trick is in danger of being overused.
Joseph Lindoe is excellent as Ryan, cocky and cocksure, while Julie Binysh makes an impact as Mum (a character I’d like to see further developed). Emily Ellis is good as Sophie, but she’s not the focus of the piece except in that hilarious and awkward date. Charlotte Price as Jill is thoughtful and comes into her own towards the end.
If Netflix and Chill encourages one man to speak out and seek help, it will have done its job. If it raises awareness of the pressure of conforming to the norm, it is worth seeing. Just don’t expect a bouncy navigation through the tangle of modern relationships.
LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see Netflix and Chill, which continues at the Drayton Arms until 29 February.
Image credit Cam Harle Photography.