thu 26/04/2018

Manwatching, Royal Court review - the vagina manologues | reviews, news & interviews

Manwatching, Royal Court review - the vagina manologues

Manwatching, Royal Court review - the vagina manologues

Female sexuality – as voiced by a male comic

Objectification, your honour: Mark Thomas was reading the work sight unseen

This monologue first saw the light of day at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015. It's a frank – very frank – piece about female sexuality by an anonymous heterosexual female author, performed by a different male comic each night, who reads it sight unseen.

The piece begins with the author explaining the kind of man whom she finds attractive; “chiselled jaw line, nicely formed butt, facial hair”. It's a terrifically sly piece of male objectification, of course, and a reminder, should we need it, that women have had to put up with this nonsense for a very long time. And then she goes on to describe various relationships and her masturbatory fantasies – which include kidnapping, being with a woman, and even gang rape.

But this isn't hardcore; some descriptions are wonderfully comic, some slightly unsettling, while others make one think about how the word “normal” can never justifiably be applied to what goes between two consenting adults in private. Yet there's nothing here you haven't read in Cosmopolitan magazine.

Masturbation is a recurring theme, and if there's a man in your life who really doesn't understand the female orgasm, the writer goes to great lengths to find ways of conveying it, but not in a When Harry Met Sally way, more with a clever literary analogy – Elizabeth Bennet hilariously gets a namecheck at one point.

Mark Thomas, the “Unprepared Man” of the text whom I saw perform the piece last night, is a warm and witty presence on stage and as the evening progressed he became noticeably more relaxed and fluent. He is a generous enough performer both to rein in his own responses to the words, but also to acknowledge some of the more corking lines, such as: “Vagina only really rhymes with angina, making for particularly depressing options in a rap song.” That is a line any comic would love to have written.

I'm not convinced that Manwatching's USP – that the reader is as fresh to the material as the audience is – adds to our enjoyment. Lucy Morrison is listed as the director yet I'm unsure what she is directing here. Surely a director's role is to be a facilitator between writer and performer, to help the performer add nuance, to elevate, to elucidate. I doubt, too, whether a male comic rather than a female actor adds something she couldn't. But it’s an amiable enough 80 minutes, and with enough laughs to keep one engaged throughout.

Manwatching is at Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London SW1 to 20 May; then tours to The MAC Belfast (with Tommy Tiernan) on 18 June; Latitude Festival, Suffolk, 13-16 July; and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 4-27 August

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