For some, Netflix and Chilling is an uncomplicated way to have someone over to yours for casual sex without the expense of going out on a date first. For others, the suggestion of it is a clear indication that the person you’ve been messaging on Tinder may not be the catch you hoped for. Without anything better to do on Valentine’s day this year, I took myself to west London to see what I assumed would be a light-hearted show about modern-day dating. Instead, ‘Netflix and Chill’ is an introspective piece which touches on mental health problems in men.
Ben (Tom Stocks) is a fairly unremarkable chef in a pub and finds himself unlucky in love. He’s been stood up a countless number of times and when he does meet women, he’s clumsy and full of anxiety and doubt. Ben’s life seems incredibly less exciting than that of his co-worker Ryan (brilliantly played by Joseph Lindoe) who appears to have it all figured out when it comes to wooing women. Ben also faces other problems on the periphery such as his strained relationship with his mother (Julie Binysh) who’s recently left her abusive partner. But this isn’t explored much in the play, so no need to dwell on it too much here.
The piece firmly centers around Ben and the other four members of the cast play mostly under-utilised supporting characters. It’s a simple story rooted in mundane settings such as a local cafe, the pub and Ben’s apartment. As the play progresses, we see that between Ben’s work, social and dating life, he is struggling internally yet doesn’t have much of an outlet to express his feelings.
One peculiar feature of the show is that the audience hears Ben’s inner thoughts via voice overs. As mental health struggles often presents itself most forcefully in a person’s mind, there’s logic in using this device to give voice to Ben’s caged inner thoughts. However as presented on the stage, the frequent voice overs would often disrupt the natural flow of conversation thus impacting the piece’s overall pacing.
Netflix and chilling is disappointingly only a small part of the play and is placed in the second act. Ben finally does get his childhood love interest, Sophie (Emily Ellis) round his place but things don’t go entirely to plan. These scenes, under the direction of Luke Adamson, are pretty entertaining. Here the use of voice overs actually works quite well as there isn’t much scripted dialogue between the two scene partners and the recorded audio is given the necessary space to take over. For anyone who’s ever been interested to know what goes through a girl’s mind when she’s taking her kit off or a guy’s mind whilst receiving oral sex, these scenes could lead to a spin-off show of their own. The writing by Tom Stocks is at its strongest and most humourous here.
The play does well to portray the fact that suicidal thoughts aren’t necessarily the result of one traumatic event but often the accumulation of a series of events which can have a serious toil on a person’s mental well-being. There still exists a stigma around this topic and the recent tragic news of Caroline Flack makes this commentary very timely indeed. I would have liked to see more of a fully fleshed story arc with Ben’s character to feel that much more connected with the central themes in the play. However it’s engaging enough and succeeds in bringing mental health awareness to the fore.
‘Netflix and Chill’ is running until 29 February 2020 at The Drayton Arms Pub Theatre.
Photo Credit: Cam Harle Photography