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The Vagina Monologues, or ‘VagMons’ as they have become known on campus, have become incredibly well known across the university, as anyone who has been taken aback by cries of ‘Vagina cupcakes! Come and get your vagina cupcakes!’ in Alexandra Square will surely know. Originally conducted as a set of interviews with women worldwide by Eve Ensler, and adapted into monologues, the play has grown in popularity and is performed in venues all over the world, with new material being created and added each year. The productions all raise money for relevant charities, and this year’s production was raising money for the Birchall Trust, which provides counselling services to survivors of rape, incest, and sexual abuse in Lancashire.
I’ll admit that I was at first a little dubious as to what to expect from the play. My friend and I arrived at the Nuffield Theatre on the Friday of Week 6, and immediately started venting our concerns. ‘What if I laugh?!’ ‘Will it be a bit awkward?!’ ‘They don’t get their vaginas out, do they?!’ We needn’t have worried – everyone’s private parts remained within their pants. The actors’ comic timing was perfect, and we were laughing aloud from the start, as we found out we were supposed to; my concerns that it was going to be a harrowing and uncomfortable experience were quashed instantly. Each act was introduced with either context of the women whose interviews were being performed, or with startling and horrifying figures about the number of women affected by rape and domestic abuse each year, contributing to what turned out to be a very educational and thought-provoking performance.
Under the expert direction of Josie Harrison, Camille Hargaden, and Alice Tooms, the cast performed phenomenally, evoking sadness, anger, and hysterical laughter from the audience, sometimes all at once! The monologues are strictly ordered so as to heighten the emotional impact of each performance by continually alternating between heart-wrenching and hilarious. The stories ranged from comic anecdotes about pubic hair, and the confusion surrounding what one should call their vagina, to the harrowing account of a woman brutally and repeatedly gang raped by soldiers during the Bosnian war. The juxtaposition of such contrastive monologues made them especially poignant.
At no point during the production did I feel as though I was being lectured, and the audience willingly cheered and joined in throughout. Audience participation can sometimes feel uncomfortable, yet I got the impression from the enthusiastic responses (when joining in with a notorious monologue which involves reclaiming the word ‘cunt) that no one felt pressurised or awkward. It was encouraging to see a considerable number of men in the audience too, who joined in wholeheartedly, especially as I had read a review of one university’s production which had only three men in the audience! The evening ended with a beautifully powerful song written by Lancaster student Bethany Jones, featuring solos from some incredible musically talented members of the cast. I could mention several individual acting performances which demonstrated considerable passion, emotion, and expert comic timing, but I felt what really shone through was the strength and involvement of the cast as a whole. Sometimes lines were slipped, or the actors corpsed, and occasionally certain lines were less audible, but this never really detracted from the overall performance, due to the genuine camaraderie, and tangible sense of encouragement and support which emanated from every member of the cast. I would fully recommend supporting The Vagina Monologues in future, especially if the notion of it makes you feel uncomfortable or awkward, as the show boldly addresses issues surrounded by considerable stigma, making them accessible, and in some cases enjoyable. After being introduced to a number of new names for vaginas, however, I will never look at ‘the university underpass’ the same way again…