As I walk into the theatre to watch the first full rehearsal of Eve Ensler’s award-winning Vagina Monologues, I’m greeted by an auditorium of pink balloons, scripts and, bar a couple of exceptions, women. It’s a good atmosphere: everyone’s excited, ready to begin and keen to do the play the justice it deserves.
It’s a brave move, inviting people to watch (and judge) the production for a first time run-through, and yet feeling privy to the process of the play’s creation nicely mirrors the earthy, organic nature of the text itself. I won’t lie, despite proudly parading my tatty paperback aged seventeen and urging all and sundry to read, or go see TVM, I find the whole thing pretty tedious now. I mean, no one’s vagina smells of snowflakes; if anyone cares to know I think a bit of minge maintenance is no bad thing, and vajazzles have, I’m sure, served their purposes post crew-date to all and sundry. Tampons are also pretty snazzy inventions – no matter how ‘pissed off’ your vagina may be I highly doubt your tutor wants you leaving their study looking like something out of The Shining. Having said all that, it’s a testament to the superb direction of Frankie Arnull that an hour and a half was enough to really swing me round to it – after the shambles that was a 2010 performance (also in Oxford) I was dreading a rerun in which I’d be urged to shout ‘cunt!’ at random men in the street. Not so: at one point Arnull claims they’ve cut a small portion of the script because it’s just “too cringe”. Fair play – what remains is fast-paced, energetic and almost cripplingly funny.
The diversity of the monologues allows a whole host of actresses to bring their strengths into the production; Millie Sparling’s ‘The Flood’ was particularly poignant, managing to capture the reticence and vulnerability of an older woman discussing intimate memories, whilst maintaining near-perfect comic timing. I also really liked Jo Murray’s ‘The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy’ , which culminates in a quite extraordinary demonstration of the various types of orgasmic moan (my personal favourite: The Oxford Moan – “I – should – be – working!”) Director and producers alike have worked hard to introduce novelty to each monologue, so different ‘characters’ as it were speak from various places in the auditorium, lending some of the more disturbing accounts an added eeriness and sense of disembodiment. I would highly recommend this to anyone next week – whatever you may feel about the text itself, this production is hysterical, touching, and unpretentious. The show’s copyright rules prevented us from giving it a press preview, but I’ll secretly give it four big Coochi Snorcher stars.