Theatre, Fringe
3 out of 5 stars

A different man reads this funny monologue about female sexuality at every performance,

Caitlin Moran may have set the gold standard for discussion of female wanking, but the anonymous author of this Royal Court production – playing late and early slots at Paines Plough’s Roundabout – could give her a run for her money when it comes to talking about the five finger femme shuffle.

‘Manwatching’ is a monologue about female sexuality intended to be read at each performance by a different man, who hasn’t seen the script until the show starts. The writer hasn’t given her name, on the not unreasonable grounds that she doesn’t want to become known as ‘the sex playwright’, though I’d further venture that she’d burn an awful lot of bridges if the various ex-boyfriends and lovers described in ‘Manwatching’ ever got wind of it. (Theatre nerds will probably delight in trying to work out the playwright’s identity – if I had to take a really wild guess, I’d say Penelope Skinner, though I’m probably miles off the mark).

At the Fringe, the performers are all stand-up comics, and the logic is pretty apparent: told right, ‘Manwatching’ is very funny, a freewheeling account of the author’s sexual history that takes in everything from graphic accounts of how she get got by while exclusively sleeping with men she didn’t fancy, to a discussion on how her sexual fantasies have gotten progressively weirder with age.

It clearly has a feminist dimension, about how much cultural perception of sexuality is shaped by the men – and consequently how little men understand female sexuality, how masturbation is different for women, how women approach sex in a different way.

I’m not quite sure it’s quite as provocative as it sets out to be – maybe it’s a Polish Catholic thing, but I personally find all discussion of sex excruciating embarrassing; the playwright’s apparent belief that we spent half of every day yakking off about whacking off is a simplification. It could probably do with a slightly more refined structure: at the moment it comes across like a tick list of topics. And I think there are problems with having a comic read it – on our night the affable Nish Kumar was great at getting the laughs, but I wonder if a nerdy-but-hard-to-embarrass beta male really gives it the right piquancy. 

Whatever the case, ‘Manwatching’ is a funny play that delves into the unsayable – and makes us seriously question why society feels that way. In the words of R Kelly, ain’t nothing wrong with a little bump’n’grind.


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