Viva la Vulva!

16 February 2008

The Vagina Monologues, Fitzpatrick Hall, Queen’s College, 14-16 February, 23:00

5 Stars

Reviewer Jon Andrews

“Va-gina. The word sounds like a disease, or a medical instrument. Nurse, pass me the vagina.” Raising money for Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre for this, the tenth V-Day, Eve Ensler’s famous play does not pull any punches. Designed to break down the unbalanced taboo surrounding the discussion of the vagina, to raise awareness of violence against women, to cut down women’s ignorance about their own bodies and to celebrate what it is to be female, this is a stunning play. I have to admit, I expected a tired feminist rant to hit me with all the subtlety of a juggernaut. What I did not expect was the funny, tender, eye-opening experience this wonderful play provided.

You could criticise Ensler’s sometimes over-simplified message, and some of her counselling techniques. You may hate the whole thing on principle. You cannot deny, however, that the performances were anything short of inspirationally commanding. Director Marta Galecki and her team have chosen the cast – all dressed in black and red, all placing a symbolic tulip in a vase – supremely well, and helped tease out wonderful emotion. Each monologue tells a story or explains a point of view, each revealing a different problem, or breaking down yet another taboo. Consistently excellent, the highlights in a show of huge talent included Nicola Marsh’s beautiful, flickering telling of a nervous experience at a Vagina Workshop; Alana Hutton-Shaw’s hilarious rampage; Camilla Gare’s straight-talking, surprisingly moving account of self-appreciation; and Megan Prosser’s wonderfully brash sex-worker’s quest to find the ‘home of the moan’. Superlatives begin to run out when describing Amy Watson’s incredible, highly emotive account of an experience of abuse, censure and a lesbian awakening.

It’s a rare production that makes you lose yourself so entirely. It’s a show capable of moving deeply: Marion Durand, a 1984-like red ribbon of chastity around her waist, gave a picturesque, mouth-open, agonising account of the rise and fall of her self esteem at the hand of defiling soldiers. It is also capable of shocking: the image of an ecstatic Mipe Okunseinde standing on a chair repeatedly chanting loud peals of ‘cunt’ (which I’m afraid I still find horrible in its brute Middle-English harshness) is not one which will hurry to scrape itself off the memory banks.

In short, a top-class production. Hilarious, poignant, moving, liberating, and all in the name of a laudable cause. What else can you say but ‘Viva la Vulva’?