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Netflix & Chill by Tom Stocks at Drayton Arms Theatre | Review

Netflix & ChillThere has always been sociological pressure on men to act a certain way. And this pressure, like all pressure, can lead to consequences. This idea has been explored in many books, plays and films and the latest one to enter the world is Tom Stocks’ play Netflix & Chill at the Drayton Arms Theatre.

Ben (Tom Stocks) is an average guy. In his twenties, he is single and his life isn’t necessarily going as planned. Like so many, he believed what the recruiters told him and went to university to get a degree and a good job. Unfortunately, though he got the degree, the job is not so hot – ‘chef’ in a pub, working with another bunch of twenty-somethings including Ryan (Joseph Lindoe) who is the epitome of a ‘lad’. However, Ben is not thinking of that today as he is in a cafe waiting to re-connect with his mother (Julie Binysh) from whom he has been estranged for a long, long time. He jokes with the bored-looking young waitress, Jill (Charlotte Price) about getting a shot of tequila – a conversation that goes somewhere to explaining why he is still single. Later, Ryan and Ben are working with Ryan bragging about his latest conquests much to Ben’s frustration. Ryan offers to take Ben out at the weekend and be his ‘wingman’ and, after a lengthy discussion, the reluctant Ben finally agrees. On their Lads, Lads, Lads night out, Ben gets completely hammered and makes a dick of himself not only in front of a load of clubbers but also Sophie (Emily Ellis) an old friend from high school. As he awakes on the morning after the night before, Ben can’t help but wonder just what is going on with his life.

The really sad thing about Netflix & Chill is that the ideas about what it means to be a man are pretty much the same for Ben & Ryan as they were for me and my friends back when we were twenty-somethings. The conversations the two guys had could easily have been lifted from those we used to have in the mess after a night out at Cinderella’s in Lincoln, and are the same conversations you hear when watching Love Island, Geordie Shore, Ibiza Weekender, etc. Despite the fact, we are in the second decade of the twenty-first century and the apparent ‘wokeness’ of the civilised world, the same ideas predominate I’m afraid. The fact I am so worked up about this is a testament to the strength of Tom’s writing. The characters he has created, both male and female, are instantly believable and easily identifiable and I really liked each of them. Unfortunately, I have way too many memories of night’s out like Ben and Ryans, and those scenes brought back some memories, both good and bad.

Although, in my day, we would have started drinking again after being sick – Lads, Lads, Lads, indeed. Really great writing with a nice, well thought out narrative that fitted each character’s personality perfectly, to the point where when they did something you weren’t expecting, you realised it was right and it was you that had missed the signals. The only minor exception was the mother who, I felt, we didn’t really get to know as well as the others.

Sometimes when the writer of a play is also the lead, the writing can feel a bit self-indulgent but this was not the case here and although Ben was the light around which all of the other characters float and interact, it just worked. A lot of this was down to the acting, and the five-strong cast fit together perfectly. Not a weak link to be seen. Ryan, annoying and with few redeemable characteristics. Sophie, sweet and amazingly patient. Jill, apparently a bored waitress, but when the chips are down, a firm BFF ready to come through. The Mum, desperately trying to get back something she may have lost but unsure of how to interact with her son who is no longer 11-years-old, and finally Ben. An all-round nice guy who, like many of us, thinks one way but is pressured by society to behave another. All five actors really bring all the facets of their characters to life individually and when interacting with others, the chemistry between them really shines through.

Full marks to JLA Productions who are credited with the set and lighting design. Given the limited space available, they have made excellent use of a really flexible back wall and a table that, particularly at the start of the second act, was used in a way that I can guarantee the manufacturers had never thought of. Luke Adamson’s direction is so good that I had completely forgotten about it. Everything about the movements and interactions between characters feels so natural that I’m sure a heck of a lot of work was put in to make it look so ‘un-directed’.

All in all, Netflix & Chill really surprised me. From the start to the ending, which was both shocking and emotional, I was captivated by the story of Ben and his life. My one disappointment was that the show wasn’t longer. I really wanted more and felt there were elements that could be expanded – the outcome of the Magaluf adventure and Ben and his mum for instance. Having said that, the story was extremely good, the acting and staging brilliant and I left the theatre wishing all the characters, whatever their faults, all the best for the future.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Have you ever wondered what goes through a person’s head in certain situations? What do you think about during a date? Or the random thoughts that go through your head during sex? What about when someone’s mental health is deteriorating?

Netflix & Chill follows Ben, a working-class chef, whose life spirals out of control after trying to rekindle a relationship with his mum. His work, friendships and love life are all tested as his week goes from bad to worse. Netflix & Chill is a dark comedy that explores mental health, toxic masculinity, what goes through your inner monologue when “Netflix & Chilling” along with stories of tragic sexual conquests, Magaluf prostitutes, and ejaculating into a bus tray.

This show is an in-depth yet entertaining piece tackling male mental health. Mental health is very pressing modern issue with more and more of us being diagnosed with mental health challenges, so Netflix & Chill highlights the pressures men face in modern dating, the toxic world of ‘lad culture’ and the difficulty men face when it comes to talking about their feelings.

Netflix & Chill is supported by and produced in support of The Mental Health Foundation. We will be holding a collection at each performance to support the excellent work they do.

Netflix & Chill
By Tom Stocks
Directed by Luke Adamson
11th – 29th February 2020
https://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/

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