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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Corn Exchange - The Vagina Monologues

19th October 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Girls behaving badly

Predominantly female audience swept along by a wave of cheap thrills

The Vagina Monologues, at The Corn Exchange, on Thursday, October 19

Liberated, broad-minded and up for a laugh, I embraced the opportunity of seeing the Vagina Monologues with enthusiasm. After all, 10 years ago this production was hailed as ground-breaking stuff, an exploration of female genitalia as never before, a bedazzling, complex, multi-layered roller-coaster of emotionally evocative comedy. At the very least, it had to be funny, bold and memorable: or did it?

American author Eve Ensler claims that 'your vagina is the story of your life', albeit often unspoken (thank God) because vaginas have not until 'now' been visible or part of the dialogue. She interviewed 200-plus women to produce a 90-minute collection of soliloquies, covering every aspect of sexual encounter from abuse to orgasmic fulfilment. How non-conformist, challenging and original is that?

The truth is that such a concept is not sustainable, however defiantly playful one is with the subject matter. We are asked what our vaginas might say if spoken to (purrlease...) or what would she (it) wear - M&S, lipstick or false teeth? Pantomime-style, we must chant the 'c' word in order to feel comfortable with it. How mature, but, oh, how facile.

Details of the vaginal workings of other women were simply too intricate, too intimate, to be anything other than distastefully intrusive. Unnecessarily crude, this over-the-top (under-the-underwear?) break from the fictional straitjacket was irrepressively cheery and smugly smirky. The odd heavy moments of poignancy (the tale of a Bosnian rape victim and memories of abusive childhood) were largely lost on an audience who laughed compulsively throughout, swept along by the fourth-form humour and seemingly determined to enjoy their moment of Girls Behaving Badly. (As for the smattering of men among us ... why on earth were you there?)

The trio who led us down this not so magical tour of the female 'front bottom' did so with lustre, energy and panache.

Stand-up comedian Abi Roberts played pseudo eroticism to perfection. Annette McLaughlin moaned her way through an archive of multiple orgasms with wit and mischief. Actor Jan Shepherd presented the whole gamut of vaginal values with admirable observation. They did their job well, delivering cheap thrills and jolts of repulsion.

The production benefits the women's charity Until the Violence Stops, which is perhaps its one saving grace. Otherwise, Vagina Monotologues left very little mark on the imagination, just a rather queasy taste in the mouth.