Opening drolly to the Andy Williams song ‘Music to Watch Girls By’, Manwatching is performed by a lone male comedian – different each night and reading, sight unseen, a sexually explicit monologue written by an anonymous woman. With little more than a small stool and a bottle of water by way of staging, the show relies heavily on its central construct, and wavers ambiguously between genres: in the Edinburgh Fringe brochure, Manwatching is listed as "Theatre (comedy, new writing)". It is undeniably a dramatically layered piece – a man voices a woman’s deeply intimate thoughts and fantasies about men, whilst giving the words his own intonation. It is also very, very funny.
Inevitably, the way in which it is funny partly depends on the reader. Our man for the evening, the award-winning comedian Jason Byrne, lends a highly amused tone to the script; mildly astonished at some of the more anatomically informative points (“I’m 45 and I’m actually learning something”) and at times overwhelmed – “I don’t know if this woman is just too complicated”. The reader, then, is implicated by the piece as he reflexively reveals his own thought-processes – whether entertained or judgmental.
Equally, there will be dissonance between this and what audience feel about a script that speaks with extreme candour about the complexity and contrariness of female desire, from early attractions—to an older, pot-bellied scuba diver—to more mature, transgressive fantasies. Nonetheless, hilariously frank script, plus unpredictable performer, equals a cleverly conceived, nuanced show.