When Neil Watkins – the wanker of the title – first appears on stage he’s a bundle of angry energy as he rants and raves about the lack of opportunities in his life, in between detailed tales of wanking. He speaks directly to the audience and comes across as a brash, confident personality, unafraid to bear his soul. Slowly, throughout the show he begins to show us a more vulnerable man than the brash persona would suggest. He lets us in on his fears and insecurities – the difficulty of coming to terms with living with HIV, the fear shared by anyone who has been single for a long time, that maybe they are just unlovable.
One of the most intimate scenes for me was when Neil was speaking to his therapist. It’s one of the few scenes where he talks to another person instead of directly out to the audience. It felt like we were seeing a more private moment than the descriptions of wanking to hard-core porn while on a cocktail of drugs.
This is a confessional show but Neil is never looking for pity or even understanding from the audience. He tells his story from a distance, always separate from those he’s speaking to. The set design means that Neil performs on the large Project stage from inside a smaller performance space marked out on the floor in white tape. It’s another barrier between the audience and the performer. The whole show is delivered in rhyme and the reason for this given in various interviews about the show is to make an unsavoury topic a little bit more beautiful. It does succeed in this because the rhythm is lovely to listen to but I think it’s other function is to keep the audience at arm’s length. However, by the end of show all these barriers are gone and Neil speaks plainly to the audience.
It’s a fast-paced show and it’s bleak at times but with a very uplifting ending. I really enjoyed it. I got a lot out of it – that feeling that other people are just as uncertain and insecure as I am, that I’m not alone in this messed up world and that things do get better. I think that’s what they call life-affirming.
The Year of Magical Wanking was a THISISPOPBABY production, directed by Mr. THISISPOPBABY Phillip McMahon. For the Ulster Bank Theatre Festival THISISPOPBABY have produced Trade, written by Mark O’Halloran, directed by Tom Creed and happening in a real life B&B. You should also get your tickets for another THISISPOPBABY production – Alice in Funderland at the Abbey. I know it’s six months but trust me – you don’t want to miss this show.