When a queue stretches halfway down the theatre stairs, there’s probably something good at the top. Luckily The Royal Court’s new piece Manwatching by an anonymous female writer didn’t disappoint. Shrouded in mystery, the piece is read aloud by a male comic who first sees the script when the printer takes centre stage at the show’s opening. The confessional piece is an account of the heterosexual writer’s sexuality through the years. As the show’s great strength is its spontaneity I have resolved to share as little as possible in this review. Suffice it to say it is frank, funny and self aware, with countless references to female masturbation. Which in my book is quite reason enough to go and see it.
The hour long piece begins with an extensive description of Madam Anonymous’ aesthetic turn ons. These include full calves, long fingers and broad shoulders, with girth being a notable bonus. Yet the writer’s attraction rarely hinges on the physical, her first crush being on a potbellied scuba instructor at the age of 12. From here, numerous unlikely paramours were to follow, with seemingly more suitable partners failing to hit the sweet spot. The erroneous nature of her desires led the writer to develop a scientific approach. Introducing “The Masturbation Examination” shortly to be added to the Biology GCSE syllabus. This ties in to probably the most revelatory aspect of the show; the writer’s masturbation fantasies. These range from surreal, to submissive to occasionally downright depraved. It was at this point that the female portion of the audience seem to heave a sigh of relief. In the same vein as Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden, the show confirms without judgement that ‘the sexy brain wants what it wants.’
The stream of consciousness tone of the show adds to its intimacy, abounding with allusion, call backs and segues. Ms. Incognito reflects upon partners who only became appealing when unavailable and boyfriends whose lack of allure made blindfolds a necessity. But within these often hilarious anecdotes the writer examines the complexity of her own attraction with keen foresight. Her schooldays recollection of girls vehemently denying masturbating while boys prided themselves on it speaks volumes about gender divides. So too do several of her dating experiences in which the different standards applied to the sexes are astonishingly clear.
Inkeeping with the show’s impromptu performance, a different comic appears each night, and I was treated to the articulate Mark Thomas. His sideways glances to the audience and fantastic timing enhance the playful colloquial nature of the script. Whilst bets are being taken on the writer’s identity, I must admit to not having a clue. From her pop culture references and graduation dates we have stablished that she is a married British woman in her early to mid-thirties with a sharp sense of humour. The decision to have the script read by a man was inspired by an article citing the influence of the male voice and a curiosity to see how it would be so received. For me this technique allowed a greater personal identification with the piece. Rather than relating to a specific woman’s experience I was able to relate the experience directly to me and found considerable resonance.
Despite the subject matter, Manwatching is not a gratuitous description of masturbation and sexual exploits. Rather it is the disclosure of one woman’s cerebral sexual relationship with herself and how that manifests in her attractions. As she who must not be named points out, in our porn saturated culture, female sexuality is all too often presented through a male lens. The writer supersedes any preconceptions or applied expectations and reclaims her carnal desires for herself. And for open minded theatre goers seeking provocative new writing and creative terms for female genitalia.
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