Writer: Rob Ward
Director: Clive Judd
With the current issues in UK politics very much dominating the news cycle, The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me seems like a rather timely show to go and see. Billing itself as a dark comedy about a political sex scandal it seems like almost light relief from the real world. The audience are introduced on arrival to Dom, a socially anxious man of indeterminant age with an obsession for steam trains and – in his words – bumming. He is gay. If you didn’t realise that fact, he will tell you roughly once every ten minutes for the next hour and a bit. He lives in a small town outside The City, where people accept him but there’s no one else he can relate to, mentally or physically, if you get the drift. Dom lives with his MDMA (Mandy) popping Mum, and dreams of being a #instagay, thinking that if he can only get 100 likes consistently on his photos then life will be sorted. Trying to save his local train station puts him in touch with Peter, his local Labour MP, who he somehow didn’t know is also very gay. How he didn’t know this is unclear because the stereotypes are flying thick and fast around Peter. Fetish nights, cheating on his husband (or possibly an open relationship), calling himself ‘she’ and grooming naïve men via offers of internships.
The grooming is the main point of the show, and it’s a very important thing to be discussing. Writer and solo performer Rob Ward created The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me with involvement from Survivors Manchester, a charity set up to allow male victims of rape, sexual abuse and exploitation to come together and be supported. A fantastic charity it must be said, and a lordly goal. Except the exploitation Dom suffers is so grey as to possibly be dismissed. Clearly this is a comment on the insidious nature of such predators, but unfortunately the lack of black and white doesn’t serve the purpose in this case, because everything about this one act, one man show is so rushed. The audience hear about Dom and Peter’s first night out, and first night together, but then we skip to a few weeks later and never get to see any insight until suddenly everything is a problem. This gets resolved but not really in an ambiguous ending that is meant to pull at the audience’s heart strings, but is so quickly wrapped up as to give them whiplash instead. Ward tells us about Dom’s life in a very bland, straight forward manner but we don’t really see into his thoughts and feelings. For a show that is essentially a monologue with some character changes, everything is kept very surface level. Even the MDMA laced freak out – set to pulsing lights and all in slow motion – is a slightly boring set of nasty words with no real bite behind it. While it is nice to see these issues lead theatre whilst not wallowing in victimhood, The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me unfortunately seems to pull too far the other way.
This is not really the fault of Ward, rather the fault of the style of show. The writing is funny, although some of the jokes go for the obvious low hanging fruit and rely heavily on LGBTQ+ stereotypes, and the lighting design by Will Monks is excellent, but the whole thing fells very Edinburgh Fringe still, despite having transcended those limitations, which means it could be award winning, but equally it often feels like GCSE Drama Coursework. The one man show element may be the issue here, even though Ward is an exceptional character actor. He plays five total characters, each one with a physical quirk and unique voice, and it is a joy to watch him switch between them all. However, his Dom – the protagonist – is just really weak in comparison to the rest. A second actor purely playing this role while Ward covered all the other would have really given the necessary separation and reactionary acting needed to get across the more serious parts of the story. It would also help if this second actor was younger and believably naïve – Ward has a playing age of 30+ and, although abuse can happen at any age, it seems that Dom is meant to be more early 20s. A fabulous opportunity for a younger actor to real embrace and develop under Ward’s evident talent.
The MP, Aunty Mandy and Me is worth seeing – it is an enjoyably dark comedy with an important message. However, further development could make this alright night out into the really important and thought-provoking show that can be glimpsed through the surface fluff. It would be wonderful to see that show should it tour again.
Touring until 1st November 2022.