Written by an anonymous woman to be performed by an unrehearsed man, Manwatching is a personal and honest account of female sexuality, relationships, masturbation, and more. As a male reviewer it’s hard for me to confirm just how honest the writing is but, judging by the laughter and applause from the women in the room, it’s a safe bet to say it’s pretty accurate. Although that’s not to say that I didn’t find it funny too (I did) or that I couldn’t relate to stories being told (I could).
It’s an interesting play to review as the premise relies on the performer not having read the text in advance. Similarly, the reviewer doesn’t want to spoil the content of the performance for a future audience member as much of it hinges on surprise and spending the hour wondering what will happen next.
The Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court is a brilliant venue I’ve visited numerous times but, in this setting, stripped back down to a bare and basic black room, one realises just how intimate the space is. Entering the room I was immediately confronted by nearly 100 people who had already taken their seats, a slightly unnerving experience and one that I then participated in once I took my seat. On the stage were two podiums – one with a printer, the other with a jug of water, glass and a Double Decker.
The eleven night run at the Royal Court has an array of male stand-up comedians performing the unseen text, reading it aloud for the first time in front of strangers unaware of who will be in their cast. There is a line in the play about how society privileges the male voice and I couldn’t help but wonder if I believed what I was hearing because it was being told to me by Rob Beckett (of whom I was already a fan). I’d like to think I’d have found the jokes funny and the stories true if it were being read by a woman, but I guess I’ll never know.
The writer discusses her past relationships with men, what she finds attractive, how she would rate her own looks, her fantasies and failures. There are other things I’d like to mention but to do so would take away the impact that the reveal of some stories have. The anonymity is key and is used to liberate her from the fear of being judged, trolled or ignored. Rob Beckett, despite adlibbing at the start he’d not read anything this long in public for years, performed the text well, if a little fast, almost as if he wanted it over with quickly.
However, as much as I laughed and enjoyed the anecdotes I was being told, it didn’t leave me with any particularly strong feelings about what I’d seen. There was no rush to rave about it on social media, no desire to dive straight into the text I’d just bought (their play scripts are a bargain at £3). It was an interesting if throwaway show, worth seeing once, although as I write this it dawns on me that it strikes a similarity with watching a stand-up routine – you enjoy the experience at the time but it doesn’t necessarily leave anything lasting within you.