Pussy-cat or mush-mellow, lady garden or frou frou, whatever you call your vagina when was the last time you actually looked at it? One of the women interviewed by Eve Ensler for her world famous show, The Vagina Monologues, had reached the age of 72 without seeing hers once. It’s women like this who inspired the show, based on Ensler’s Vagina Interviews through which she met women from all walks of life, with all sorts of stories and decided one thing was for certain; we need to start talking about vaginas.
Enter UEA’s Minotaur Theatre Company. Playing over two nights, with two separate casts, the performance returned after the popularity of last year’s sold out shows. Venue was there for the second year cast and was blown away by the show’s authenticity and warmth. Entering the studio, the audience were met by bubble blowing and actors grabbing audience members to draw large, glittery Vs on their faces, all to a playlist of feminist anthems. Highlights of the night included the unexpected, but marvellous question, “what would your vagina wear?” to which answers included “ermine and pearls”, “silk kimonos”, “Harry Winston diamonds” and brilliantly, “something machine washable”.
Stand out performances came from Ellie Woodruff-Bryant with ‘My Vagina is angry’, lamenting with a wry cynicism the injustice of tampons (“a wad of dry fucking cotton…Why can’t they find a way to subtly lubricate the tampon?”) as well as vaginal exams and thongs. Susannah Martin impressively had the whole room chanting “cunt” while Josie Dale-Jones told the comical tale of how ‘itsy bitsy’ was ceremoniously renamed ‘vulva’.
Ensler’s script felt at times a little outdated in her insistence that we are defined by our vaginas, particularly in the monologue ‘Because he liked to look at it’. “Vagina connoisseur” Bob apparently read the speaker’s vagina like her palm “you’re elegant and deep and innocent and wild” but despite this the majority of the performance was fabulously real and easily relatable. Minotaur managed to combine unreserved fun with some emotionally poignant moments and moved from the utterly hilarious to the deeply saddening as we heard shocking statistics of female genital mutilation which is still happening across the world, in astounding numbers.
At the time of The Vagina Monologue’s writing, over 80m women had been subjected to the barbaric mutilation and this wasn’t the end of the horrors against women the play discussed. According to Rape Crisis 85,000 women are raped each year in England and Wales. The monologue ‘My vagina was my village’, beautifully performed by Laura Nucinkis, gave an insight into the psychological and physical damage inflicted by rapists with the story of a Bosnian refugee, attacked during the war in Yugoslavia. This monologue was the most shocking of the evening and made the plays tie to local charity Leeway all the more important.
UEA Leeway operates in Norfolk and Suffolk helping men, women and children affected by domestic violence. In the past year Leeway has helped over 10,000 people and the £1800 raised by the performance will ensure they help even more. Feminist Society Treasurer Hattie Samuel gave a speech to end the evening sharing the shocking statistic that a woman between 15 and 45 is more likely to die from domestic violence than the effects of cancer, traffic, malaria and war combined. Her speech was also uplifting however, quoting Rebecca West’s infamous remark that “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” With the night ending on this empowering note, Venue left The Vagina Monologues still laughing and with a great deal to contemplate, all with a newfound love and respect for our (say it with me) cunts.