Writer: V (Eve) Ensler
Director: Irene Macdougall
You likely came out of one. You might have zero experience with one, never seen one – even your own. Hell, you might even be quite partial to them. So, before going any further, let’s all take a moment and say the word together: “vagina”.
That wasn’t hard: was it?
The beauty of V (Eve) Ensler’sThe Vagina Monologues, and something director Irene Macdougall naturally grasps and incorporates into this new staging for the Dundee Rep, is the ever-changing nature of the performance. But the changes reflect not only the time but location; this is a remarkably ‘Scottish’ incarnation of the monologues in structure, delivery, and attitude. Macdougall, with a trio of superb performers Joyce Falconer, Laura Lovemore, and Maureen Carr, all bring something of the world they live within to this production, which runs at the Theatre until April 29th.
The truth is plain to see that there is still incredibly far to go, as far as violence and prejudices towards women go, and the importance of the monologues – every one of them, still rings as pertinent some thirty years since Ensler’s creation of the show. A series of ten monologues, originally conceived as a celebration of the vagina, tumble through the boundaries of shame surrounding the body and has evolved into a form of conversation-starter surrounding hidden desires, insecurities and, unfortunately, atrocities associated with the vagina.
Some of these journeys may not seem enormous, but for the individuals interviewed – these accounts represent their entire lives, one special moment being Falconer’s performance of an older woman, whose vagina has been “closed for business” for years. The initial reluctances (and mercifully eventual gratitude) in sharing the details of a private matter, of something one doesn’t share with others, gradually lower, Falconer’s physicality and intonation brings such distinct personality that it’s impossible not to give over fully to any of the monologues.
Similarly, star ofJames IV:Queen of the FightandLife is a DreamLaura Lovemore gives themselves to each monologue with dexterity and wit – maybe even a spread leg or two. While the trio bring individual diligence to performance, there’s an undoubted control with Macdougall’s direction that maintains a sense of tone across the entire production: one of respect, of honesty, and lashings of raw, honest humour (you might need to take a break following Falconer’s astoundingly humorous ‘C’ word monologue).
If you haven’t been wiped out with the humour, it’s important to pay attention to the more harrowing elements of the monologues – and the more intimate and personal moments. Macdougall makes assurances to the comfort of all in the theatre, and by the end of the ten monologues, there’s a warming, communal presence radiating from the theatre, an inclusive environment for all – including the men in the audience.
Esler’s short format means you may experience some whiplash with the pacing of the stories, broken apart by vagina facts or a brief intermission, but with how adept the trio are in turning to the depth of importance, and distressing accounts of the less humorous, though no less truthful elements of life, they and Macdougall ensure the pacing does have enough to flow to ensure the flip from light-hearted to dark isn’t jarring.
Aiding swift transitions, flushed with the lurid and blushing mauves and pinks of a television studio, Richard Abbey’s lighting adds intensity to key monologues – particularly a patiently emphatic performance from Carr, who recites the accounts of genital mutilation in young girls, their eyes locked with the audiences, the colour drained from the stage as a singular spot holds the silence of the theatre.
From a person’s first period to the thrill of discovering their body – and the insecurities which surround,The Vagina Monologueswill leave you curious, empowered, furious, tearful, beautiful, and hell – might leave you with a few chuckles to boot. This incarnation of the show is as familiar as it is different with any who have heard the monologues previously – spoken with new voices, guided by a gentle, yet firm command with Macdougall’s direction. The Vagina Monologues, in any incarnation, is so much more than a show – it’s a movement.
Runs until 29 April 2023 | Image: Contributed