Manwatching at the Royal Court Theatre
Manwatching is an entertaining monologue that mainly gains its spark by doubling up as a theatrical experiment. Written by an anonymous woman, the play is to be performed by a male comedian who has never seen the script; thus, a different actor each time. The result is that the reader is both performer and spectator, delivering the lines but also sharing the surprise and amusement of the audience.
The stage is completely bare but for a printer at the centre and a jug of water for the actor, and the show begins with the printing of the script. While the pages pile up, the performer introduces himself to the room. On the night, it was comedian Arthur Smith who warily awaited the monologue whilst confessing that his instinct would be to tell his own jokes and make people laugh. Instead, he tells the spectators what he had for breakfast, trusting the mystery script to provide him with some comedy to impart.
The play is centred around female desire and it is frank, explicit and funny. To reveal more about its content would be to mar the experience for anyone planning to see the show (or perform it). Suffice it to say that the text is of a very personal nature, and that it is designed to put the actor in a slightly uncomfortable, vulnerable position. The script is colloquial, amusing and easy to follow. Its candidness makes the audience warm to it immediately, and stay with it throughout, but it does seem that the focus is the overall experiment rather than the text’s quality as a theatrical piece.
Manwatching seems to belong to the stand-up comedy category more than it does theatre, and in that sense it is satisfying. Its most exciting characteristic is the freshness of the experience. In theatre, no two performances are the same, and in this case more than ever does this apply, as both actor and audience change each time. Thus it is the uniqueness of each show that makes it special. If the element of surprise were removed, however, it would become apparent that the actual content of the piece is ordinary and unlikely to make a lasting impact.
The idea of the female perspective channelled through the male voice is the strength of the play. Manwatching highlights the double standards when it comes to expressing sexuality and challenges gender inequality as it manifests through sexual politics. Unfortunately, the tools that the writer uses to take on this task are feeble as the monologue lacks both poetry and depth, and the project relies too heavily on the precarious notions of secrecy and anonymity.
Photo: Helen Murray
Manwatching is at the Royal Court Theatre from 10th until 20th May 2017, for further information or to book visit here.