If there is any show that has the potential to strike a little apprehension into its audience, it has to be The Vagina Monologues. The audience ultimately sit through a performance where three women talk about vaginas; it could be a roaring success…or an embarrassing endurance. Judging from the applause the actresses received at the end of the show, I think the answer was clear.

Starring Wendi Peters (Coronation Street), Mel Giedroyc (The Great British Bake Off) and Zaraah Abrahams (Waterloo Road), The Vagina Monologues are outrageously open and honest, combining comedy, facts and stirring emotion. The content is based on the writer Eve Ensler’s ‘Vagina Interviews’ which were conducted with women worldwide spanning a range of ages. Despite having no apparent order, the tales were well balanced in terms of content and extremely well delivered. The production is unashamedly aimed at females, described as ‘the ultimate girl’s night out’ and featuring topics that leave no room for embarrassment; the surprising handful of men who turned up received a hearty round of applause for their bravery!

The show immediately assumed an open, engaging tone and as a member of the audience I felt that instead of feeling detached from those on stage, I had become absorbed as part of the performance as the trio listened to shout outs and even laughed along with those watching. The colloquial dialogue and the direct address of the actresses to the audience encouraged a feeling of unity which is possibly one of the aims of the production; to bring women together over an aspect of physical femininity, yet something which we would never, or rarely, discuss.  Enhancing the intimate connection established between those on and off stage are the occasional bouts of improvisation and even the odd mishaps, such as Mel’s hilarious and accidental collision with her microphone as she walked back to her seat after a particularly energetic monologue.

Mishaps aside however, the acting throughout was truly applaudable; Wendi produced some comedy gold with her overly dramatic voices; Mel’s body language and facial expressions were perfectly suited to each character she was portraying whilst Zaraah performed the more touching monologues in a simple and heartfelt, almost poetic way.

The placement of the chairs in the centre of the stage, combined with the choice of a simple black backdrop focused the attention solely on the women and their voices. This cleverly enhanced the poignancy of the words and placed greater importance on the way they were articulated. The actresses rose to this challenge magnificently and the impact of the dialogues was evident in the audience’s various and contrasting reactions as they were reduced to tearful laughter or stunned into silent emotion.

The lighting, in a production with minimal action yet orientated with dialogue, had to be effective.  It managed to compliment the monologues through its creation of suitably reflective moods for the individual stories; the heart-breaking monologue from a war camp rape victim saw the lights dim, whilst the outrageous and entertaining monologue about orgasms was enhanced with flashing lights and even fireworks at the back of the stage! The placement of the lights in the backdrop became slightly dazzling after a while, especially in contrast to such a dark stage, but the variation in spotlights and lighting techniques was very fitting for the production.

As the first half drew to an end I was starting to wonder if there was much left to discuss and if they’d exhausted all that could be said about vaginas…. But I was pleasantly surprised. Although the second half was noticeably much shorter, the few remaining monologues were perhaps the best in the show. The final story was a good choice to end with as it was based on an account from Eve Ensler herself. Through the description of how she felt witnessing her granddaughter’s birth, the monologue reflects the ultimate wonder and miracle of the female form; a perfect end to a production which celebrates just that.

Stephanie Allen

‘The Vagina Monologues’ will be touring the U.K. during February 2012, more information can be found at www.vaginamonologues.co.uk.

 

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