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Manwatching review at Royal Court, London – ‘frank and extremely funny’

Manwatching at the Royal Court, London. Photo: Helen Murray Manwatching at the Royal Court, London. Photo: Helen Murray
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This frank and extremely funny confessional monologue about sexual desire was written by a female playwright who wants to remain anonymous.

Manwatching is intended to be read aloud, in front of an audience, by a male performer who’s never seen the script before. Each night a different comedian takes on this task.

The stage is bare, save for a glass of water and a printer. When Adam Buxton enters, the printer duly produces 35 pages of text.

He begins to read, relaying the physical qualities that this woman finds attractive in a man. While it’s funny to hear Buxton enunciate words like “butt” and “girth” in his warm patrician tones, something more subversive is going on here.

This theatrical experiment, directed by Lucy Morrison, cleverly capsizes the male gaze, skews objectification and probes sexual politics. Buxton is the specimen on display, confronting the unexpected and articulating details about female sexual fantasy and masturbation that rarely get discussed in mainstream culture.

The monologue riffs on the comical peculiarities of desire (sex dreams about Andy Samberg and imaginings about Elizabeth Bennet playing unusual parlour games) while exploring the more troubling interplay between humiliation and pleasure – the hinterland of psychosexuality.

First seen as part of the Paines Plough Later series at the Edinburgh fringe in 2015, Manwatching is a reclamation of the privilege often afforded to the male voice. The sight-reading element heightens the text’s disruptive force – there are stumbles and re-runs, double-takes and long pauses. It’s fascinating to watch a male comedian getting laughs that aren’t really his own – here the anonymous woman is the real comic force.

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Comically candid monologue sight-read by a male comedian that inverts expectations