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Please, don’t be put off by the name! I can’t count the number of people who’ve looked sidelong at me before asking ‘You’re going to see what?’ The Vagina Monologues is a play that has been running across the world since it first premiered in New York in 1996. Created by Eve Ensler, it’s made up of a series of monologues read by self-identifying women, discussing what it’s like to be a woman, and what it means to have a vagina. The topics range from sex, love, birth and masturbation to harrowing issues of rape and female genital mutilation. It shows the women in the monologues at their best and at their worst, and it’s inspiring, heartfelt, and often very, very funny!
Every year, on and around Valentine’s Day, people across the world perform the Vagina Monologues as part of V-Day, an international activist movement started by Eve Ensler, to stop violence against women and girls, and to support One Billion Rising, a mass global action against violence, the “billion” referring to the UN statistic that one in three women, or about one billion women on the planet, will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. 10% of the proceeds from the Lancaster production will go to support V-Day, while the other 90% will help Trust House, a rape and sexual abuse support centre in Preston.
This is the 12th year that activists at Lancaster University have performed this play, aiming to raise awareness and funds for V-Day while also showing their audience the struggles and joys of being a woman in the modern world. This year, the Monologues took place at the Nuffield Theatre on campus, and spilled out from the theatre into the foyer, where cast members and supporters were selling cake, labia lollipops and inviting everyone to write down their favourite term for ‘down there’ (some favourites included ‘Laurence of A Labia’, ‘the Chamber of Secrets’ and ‘Kate Bush’).
Inside the theatre, the stage formed a long line of sofas and cushions, arranged around a thrust catwalk that the speakers stood on to deliver their monologues, with the rest of the cast sat onstage, watching, applauding and laughing, giving the entire performance an atmosphere of warmth and camaraderie. The majority of the cast even took part in the very memorable monologue ‘The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy’, which had members of the cast perform their own unique ‘orgasm’ – everything from the Mean Girl (“Oh… oh… OH THAT’S SO FETCH”) to the Beyonce (“Yes, yes – to the left, to the left!”).
Different cast members took the stage, stood or moved about it, laid down and spread their legs or had some fun with audience participation – Sophia Spiropoulos brought the fantastic ‘Reclaiming Cunt’ to life in a performance that ended with the entire cast and audience chanting ‘cunt’ to reclaim the word from its derogative associations, which I imagine might have perturbed anyone who was walking past the Nuffield. Other monologues were less funny, but far more poignant – ‘They Beat the Boy Out Of My Girl’ is a deeply moving discussion of the experience and struggles of transgender individuals, and it stayed with me for a long time afterwards. Likewise, when the production’s fantastic directors – Floss Edward, Annabelle Blackburn, Emily Jones and Beccy Websdell – took the stage to deliver a monologue about One Billion Rising, they and the cast raised their arms, to signify one billion women rising. The whole audience immediately joined them, in a collective moment of spontaneous solidarity and silence. This was followed by the beautiful song ‘Making Waves’, composed and performed by members of the cast. The audience were invited to stand if any of the issues in the performance had ever affected their lives, and as one, cast and audience stood. It was an incredibly powerful moment, and as with the rest of the performance, is something I will remember for a very long time.