Mark Watson wanders onto stage and picks up a totally unseen script by a totally unknown female writer. It’s coincidence that tonight’s comedian is Mark Watson – there’s a different comedy performer for each show of Manwatching. It’s an interesting challenge for Watson to deliver, but equally a challenge to review. How do you analyse something that is clearly a first reading?
The unknown writer talks about her perceptions of sex and sexual fantasy. Many narrators may cringe when they realise the subject matter, embarrassingly stumble through the monologue about reclaiming female sexual desire – not so Watson, who approaches the production with respect and quick wit to draw out the comedy that is so inherent in the narrative. This is a writer who fundamentally knows how to produce intelligent, funny observations and throw the spotlight on the male when he inadvertently switches the perspective.
Watson himself is a natural storyteller, subconsciously adding pace and pause to the relevant parts of Manwatching, a magnetic presence that draws in the audience regardless of the material. It helps that it is an equally engaging text. The story discusses sexual attractiveness, which is not always based on physicality. It does however describe in detail the physical side of relationships, the desires that go so often undiscussed and unsatisfied. The writer finds freedom in her anonymity and gets a kick out of the premise that a male voice may squirm when reading aloud the inner workings of her sexualised brain. The unintentional power play works too – femininity holds the cards in this production.
Manwatching throws up some intriguing questions about the nature of audience interaction too. Are we actively listening or are we mainly observing Watson narrate, knowing that his reactions are instinctual and new? Watson cannot prepare his response, he simply interacts viscerally with the words put in his mouth. Do we connect with him or connect to the script? I find myself watching the audience too, understanding their reactions and finding interest in which parts glean which responses. Everything is new for discovery here, a unique perspective that I can never participate in again now I have prior knowledge to the play’s construction.
In the end, the writer revels in her new-found power and instructs us to judge the performer reciting the piece. Watson is actively put under the microscope as he himself announces that we should judge his tone, delivery and capability. In this way, Manwatching shifts perspective once more firmly onto the actor, a vulnerable position that all performance artists put themselves in but one here that is magnified because Watson does not possess the cloak of a character to shroud himself in. There is extra impetus in the shift being in favour of the woman. The production itself asks questions of broad intrigue, but may do so at the expense of paying attention to the narrative itself.
Manwatching plays Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 27 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.