Matt Magill explores the fascinating new exhibition at the Ikon Gallery, which pushes artistic boundaries and challenges our understanding of artWritten by Matthew Magill on 21st February 2017
Review: V-Day UoB “The Vagina Monologues” with The Women’s Association & Infinity Stage Company
Culture Editor Olivia Boyce is entertained and moved by a student performance of The Vagina Monologues, staged as part of the V-Day movement
Few shows seem to maintain a subtle presence in the public theatrical space like Eve Ensler's tour-de-force, The Vagina Monologues. Mention it to a group of people, and chances are that at least a few will have heard of it. It's certainly got an illustrious performance history, with Cate Blanchett, Gillian Anderson and Meryl Streep just some of the many famous figures to have taken up the mantle of performance. Crucially, it's also central to the V-Day movement, where fund-raising performances form part of a global activist movement, started by Ensler, that aims to end violence against women and girls. The production at the Guild, as the result of a partnership between the Women's Association and Infinity Stage Company, and in aid of charity RSVP ( the rape and sexual violence project) is one such contribution to the movement - and it's a stellar one indeed.
“a complex and varied series of monologues centered on various life experiences of a diverse variety of women whom Ensler interviewed
The Vagina Monologues, rather unsurprisingly, is a complex and varied series of monologues based upon the life experiences of a diverse variety of women whom Ensler interviewed. There are monologues about menstruation, about injustices wrought against women, and about Ensler's own experience of witnessing a birth. From some hilarious stories including one woman's reclamation of the taboo 'C-word', to moving and powerful stories that deal with acts of extreme sexual violence, the range of topics is striking.
The sold-out show took place in the Amos Room, and the performance space was utilised to great effect. The audience were seated in two concentric circles, with the cast seated amongst them, reacting as appreciatively to each other's performances as the audience did. This closeness afforded an extra level of intimacy and emotion to the evening, meaning the many moving monologues that were dispersed between the more comic offerings were unflinchingly powerful.
A monologue often titled 'The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy', based on interviews with a female sex worker who loves to give women pleasure, was well deserving of the round of applause it elicited. Katy Owens' vocal gymnastics in the mimicking of various moans, from a hilarious student-centred 'I should be studying!' to the climactic vocal demonstration of a triple orgasm, had the audience in a mixture of raucous laughter and disbelief, a demonstration of the enduring comic power of Ensler's writing, even when used to describe female sexual experience.
“Ensler is clearly not one afraid to examine issues in monologues that are deeply moving, oft poignant, and at times horrifying in their continued relevancy
Notable also was the use of personalised anecdotes and tales, taken from interviews and personal experiences of students and local figures, personalising for a brief moment a show that deals with a diverse and far-reaching range of experiences. It's a lovely touch, and one that speaks volumes of the creative direction of the piece, for it contrasts brilliantly with the inter-dispersal of a range of facts, read by cast members like Katie Logie and Rosie Esther Solomon distributed throughout that effortlessly link between monologues, whilst revealing the real life back-stories and context to many of them.
The New York Times' assertion, when Ensler's show first premiered in 1996, was that the play was "probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade". Ensler is clearly not one afraid to examine issues in monologues that are deeply moving, oft poignant, and at times horrifying in their continued relevancy. One monologue, based on interviews with a transgender woman, highlighted the systemic discrimination often faced by those within the LGBTQ+ community, from both individual lack of acceptances and societal intolerancy, whilst another, titled 'My Vagina Was My Village', was compiled from testimonies of Bosnian women subjected to horrific sexual violence during conflicts. Both are devastating monologues that linger hauntingly long after the show has finished, as a stark reminder of the violence and opressive forces that RSVP, the chosen charity, as well as the wider V-Day movement, aim to eradicate.
“Ensler's monologues continue to speak to the need for action, the need for unity, and the need for empowerment and equality
Ensler's show and the monologues it contains feel just as politically momentous as it was when it first premiered. In a world where women, minority groups, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and many others face uncertainty, instability and discrimination, Ensler's monologues continue to speak to the need for action, the need for unity, and the need for empowerment and equality. They often speak to the many, not the few, and their comic reputation is almost a disservice to the profoundly important and moving work that the Vagina Monologues have the capacity to be - and here, they are realised brilliantly by a cast that demonstrate student performance at its finest.
Cast and Crew:
Flora Wilson Brown
Director - Marina Johnson
Producer - Katie Walsh
Assistant Producer - Lizzie Maxfield
Stage Manager - Jimmy Dougan