The Mancunion

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Review: Was it good for you?

Part of the MIFTAS season by the University of Manchester Drama Society this is a hilarious play about one night stands

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One night stands are a strange, post-modern phenomenon.

The idea of becoming entirely intimate with a total stranger for a few hazy hours only to depart their lives often forever seems at odds with any notion of forging emotional, fulfilling relationships which- in this increasingly lonely world- seems to be the end goal for a lot of people.

Thankfully then, directors Rosie Harris and Luke Smith along with the wonderful cast of ‘Was it good for you?’ are here to guide us through the joys and anxieties of the one night stand. The play is hilarious in large parts and touching when it needs to be, and is ultimately an uncomfortably honest look at the great embarrassing anecdote of our time.

The play begins in medias res in the bedroom scene. The two leads, a boy named Isaac and an apparently unnamed girl are already back (post-pub foundation laying) to the site of the bedroom- the locus for so many unsaid worries about what is going to happen next.

The play is built around a series of interior monologues from the two leads as they anxiously project their worries about the upcoming and apparently inevitable sex that is to follow. The monologues are impeccably written, unflinchingly discussing sexual pitfalls such as worries over out of control pubic hair or sexual virility (can I get it up? A problem as old as sex itself).

Chris Pope and Izzy Lewis are brilliant, candidly discussing taboo subjects with the audience in a way which is uncomfortable yet reassuring; these are just two normal people with the same worries about sex as anybody who hasn’t been trained in the Hugh Heffner school of sexual prowess.

The direction of the play is great; these two characters never voice their concerns to one another, only second guessing each other in brilliant comic fashion (where does this go? Shall I put this here? Etc.). As an audience member, you are left thinking ‘just TALK to each other’, yet that of course is the point the play drives home; the lack of communication due to embarrassment underpins so many of these true to life situations.

The play progresses through various ‘stages’ of intercourse, and wryly portrays the often-mechanical motions people go through when becoming intimate with a stranger. The leads worry that they are being too adventurous while the other wonders if their partner could maybe be doing more. If an audience member is made uncomfortable during this play, it is only because it is so unnervingly accurate for anyone who has been in this situation before.

The play must also be commended for its daring nature; this is not a PG-13 comedy. All the sex acts are performed as to be one step away from pornographic. There is no interpretive dance to signal the erotic union of two beings, or an explosion of petals to emulate an orgasm. The play opts for realism over ‘high art’ and it is extremely effective.

As I have mentioned, any discomfort felt by the audience is just an honest reflection of how these real-life scenarios play out; they are nature awkwardness. Of course, nudity (or partial nudity) in theatre is nothing new, but it still exhibits a complete shedding of self-consciousness on the actor’s part and is a very impressive artistic choice.

In order to flesh the monologues out, a series of muses appear to guide our leads through the night; fully fledged Casanovas our heroes are not (who is?). Fergus Macphee’s turn as a kind of high-camp, transvestite figure is uproariously funny, confidently guiding the bemused Isaac (and the audience) through the oft-challenging process of donning a prophylactic (condom to the layman).

Clint Eastwood, Simone de Beauvoir and assorted others also make bizarre and hilarious cameos, further emphasising the crazy and random thoughts that invade our brains in these apparently most intimate moments. These two characters may be physically interacting with each other, but their minds are off on their own journey, desperately seeking help from these fictional characters.

As the play reaches its climax (sorry) it entails a brilliant departure from the mostly comic scenes that have occurred prior to this final act. Both characters begin to address their past, and wonder what it is that is stopping them from fully enjoying this moment. One moving scene involves Lewis’s character confronting past demons and attempting to exorcise them in a show of autonomy that the play gets right, never wandering in to the realms of cliché or forced sadness. In a brilliantly acted scene, the audience is privy to the trauma that Lewis’ character has experienced and is a brutally honest moment that elevates the play from raunchy comedy into a deeper exploration of the sexual psyche.

Overall then the play is pure comic gold, almost every joke landing and sharp pop-culture references abound. The fact that it deals with the concept of the ‘one night stand’ in a nuanced and honest manner is a bonus. The score is also great, a series of jazz standards helping the play along as our leads bumble through their sexual odyssey.

The setting is also brilliant, a classic messy ‘uni’ bedroom being the site of the play, and a kind of lewd shadow show helping the play’s action to proceed while our leads talk to the audience. If you want to see some honest, no holds-barred theatre about sex in all its baggage-ridden glory from the University of Manchester Drama Society then go and see ‘Was it good for you?’. Who knows, you may even learn a trick or two.

‘Was it goof for you?’ is part of the MIFTAS season and is playing at the Martin Harris Building from the 15th to the 17th February.