Six years on from his last full Fringe show, Tom Rosenthal, star of Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner and ITV2’s Plebs, returns to the Fringe for 2019 with a passionate, personal yet laugh-out-loud offering, Manhood. As much cathartic for Rosenthal as comedic for the audience, Manhood is a rip-roaring diatribe delivered with an urgency that makes it well worth the watch.
Rosenthal brings a tech-led performance featuring interactive slideshows and unexpected props to educate and entertain his audience on the sensitive topic of circumcision and its effect upon him. Rosenthal’s delivery is reminiscent of on-screen colleague Simon Bird’s incredulity. He is unable to resist the opportunity for anatomical jokes which will either induce giggles or groans. However, he spends much of his sixty minutes weaving in arguments against culturally or hygiene-motivated circumcision, citing research and statistics and even beaming in the advice of a real academic via Skype. This is a topic close to Rosenthal’s heart, and it shows.
To support his arguments, Rosenthal ventures into the risky terrain of faith and abortion, a move which could benefit from a little more subtlety. Rosenthal nevertheless tests the limits of his audience with a mixture of ironic self-awareness and a genuine taste for the controversial.
Referencing some memorable cultural touchstones of the early noughties, Rosenthal’s humour aims its arrow at those of us who can (just about) remember the digital world before Facebook and YouTube. Dropping in a well-placed ‘shalom’ – a running gag from Friday Night Dinner – and building in clips from his various TV roles garners easy laughs, as we are reminded of where Tom Rosenthal has come from, in his typically self-effacing manner.
The show switches rather suddenly at times between schoolboy humour and earnest information-sharing and myth-debunking, which gives the laughs a stop-start quality that leaves us slightly on edge. However, Rosenthal acknowledges this, demonstrating a self-awareness that gets you on his side.
Despite a distraction-laden auditorium, Rosenthal stays on-script, eschewing the opportunity in such situations for the comedian to pick on those audience members who dare to do so much as nip to the loo. This creates a relaxed atmosphere, even if there might have been rich pickings for some ad-libbing in between the set-pieces.
Overall, Manhood is a solid, well-rehearsed show and which brings to light an issue not often discussed. If you enjoy Rosenthal’s other work and are on board with anatomical humour as well as meaningful discussion about human rights and trauma, then this show should feature highly on your Fringe to-do list.
Manhood is on at Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
At 18:30 until 25th August (not 13th August)
Get tickets here
Image: Idil Sukan