Pros: A series of strong, compelling stories delivered by a fine cast.
Cons: The show would’ve been more powerful as a performance rather than a staged reading.
The Vagina Monologues is pretty much what it says on the tin; a series of monologues concerning a range of topics relating to women and sex. Originally written in 1996 by Eve Ensler, it’s based on interviews with over 200 women. It’s also a permanent work in progress with Ensler frequently adding new pieces that address contemporary debates. This means that whenever you see a staging of the play, it’ll be a surprise in terms of which monologues are included and in what order they’re performed.
This production at the Tea House Theatre features a compelling mix of stories, some funny and some sad. Ensler certainly doesn’t eschew the painful and the uncomfortable. There is talk about female genital mutilation and the monologue My Vagina Was my Village gives a fairly non-explicit but still horrifying account of the experiences of women who were systematically raped during the Bosnian War. Fortunately, these pieces are interspersed with more light-hearted segments and there were plenty of moments when the entire audience was laughing out loud. In Because He Liked to Look at It, a woman who is ashamed of her vagina relates how she learned to love it after having sex with Bob, a man who absolutely adores looking at vaginas. Another particularly amusing piece is about a lawyer-turned-dominatrix who describes all the types of moans she extracts from her female clients (hint: the list includes options like the Jewish moan, the Irish Catholic moan and ‘the wasp’).
As a whole, The Vagina Monologues is an excellent play; an often relatable and empowering piece that also makes it clear that we’re not there yet in terms of gender equality. That’s why it’s so great that this show, although recognisable primarily for those of us who have a vagina, is also very accessible for men. Yes, I know how it sounds, but this is not wishful thinking on my part. My initially somewhat apprehensive, penis-owning plus one had a wonderful time as well and agreed with me that more men should go to see this play. So there you have it gentlemen…
The only thing that could’ve made this show even better would have been an actual performance rather than a staged reading, which was the format for this production. Most of the cast were splendid, but the few standout performances were the most powerful ones because the actors in question were only holding their text, not looking at it. I do appreciate the difficulty of learning pages and pages of lines by heart, but at the end of the day there’s nothing more effective than an actor who can look her audience in the eye and make a connection.
In terms of venue, the Tea House Theatre is definitely the perfect place for an intimate show like this one. A cosy café-by-day and theatre-by-night in Vauxhall, it has a charming and welcoming character that makes you feel right at home. Oh and did I mention they do cake? So, by all means, see if The Vagina Monologues come back for International Women’s Day next year, but don’t wait that long for a visit to this theatre. Both the venue and this play deserve your attention.
Author: Eve Ensler
Director: Jessica Ruano with the company
Booking Info: This show has now completed its run.