Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Following the huge success of his latest show Letters To Morrissey, there must have been more than a few Gary McNair fans queueing on Monday for the only two performances of his other 2017 show, Locker Room Talk; but if so, they would have found themselves facing an experience very different from McNair’s recent genial poetic monologues.
Locker Room Talk
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
Roundabout @ Summerhall (Venue 26)
Inspired by the claim that Donald Trump’s outrageously crude remarks about women are just ordinary “locker room talk”, the show is a verbatim piece based on extensive research among men, undertaken by McNair after Trump’s election, about whether this claim is true, and how they actually talk about women in their absence.
Even more challengingly, the show is performed by a cast of five women, standing or sitting at five microphones, on a bare stage, with the words of the men being played to them through earpieces and passed on to the audience; and what the show reveals is not comfortable listening, either for the audience, or for the female actors performing it. Essentially, the picture it paints is of men who, however they personally feel about women, find themselves trapped in a male “banter” culture that both permits and demands the constant reduction of women to mere sexual objects.
In that sense, the show acts as both a warning to women about the persisting attitudes of those men who are outright misogynists, and a lament of sorts for those men who would like to love women well, but find the whole language of their sexuality constantly defined and corrupted by those who desire women without loving them, and can therefore respond only with fear, resentment, and dangerous aggression, often masked as humour.
Manwatching, by contrast – created at the Royal Court in London – is a piece written by a single, anonymous woman about her own sexual life and search for fulfilment, which involves both relationships with men, and an intense pursuit of the art of self-pleasuring. Here – in a mirror image of Locker Room Talk – the text is read from a script by a different male actor each night; I saw the stand-up comic Darren Harriott, who handled the story with an endearing cheerful incredulity, mixed with some bafflement.
In the end, though, Manwatching has precious little in common with Gary McNair’s show; woman don’t collectively inhabit public space in the way men do, and don’t experience the same urge or expectation to comment on every passing male.
It’s about one woman’s sexual life, which includes quite a few men. And if anyone in the audience – or on stage – finds its content surprising, that only demonstrates what we already know; that when women talk, men very often stop listening – until they hear the words spoken again, in a male voice.