The women of Wimbledon are more comfortable with the word penis than the word vagina.
I know this because I saw Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, at the New Wimbledon Theatre, and the audience was encouraged to participate.
Actress Diane Keen tells us the clitoris contains 8000 nerve endings; more than the tongue, fingertips and lips and twice as many as the penis.
In giving the ‘Clit fact’, she leads the audience in shouting out the words ‘8000’, ‘tongue’, ‘lips’, ‘fingertips’ and ‘penis.’
Guess which word the 98% female audience shouts the loudest?
As you might expect from a play which makes sex its main subject, the show is rife with innuendo.
Before the play starts we are given the announcer’s message: “Please turn off all mobile phones, or alternatively switch to vibrate, lie back and enjoy.”
Hollie-Jay Bowes and Terri Dwyer complete the cast of three.
They come out of character and give sex-related facts in the moments between performing the monologues, which are based on the playwright’s interviews with over 200 women.
Some of the stories are funny but some of them are heart-breaking and there is some skilled accent work from all three actresses.
‘Because He Liked to Look At It,’ is the tale of a woman who sees her vagina as an item of furniture until meeting a man called Bob.
Bowes says: “It’s embarrassing because it’s not politically correct. I mean I know it should have happened in a bath with salt grains from the Dead Sea, Enya playing.”
She characterises Bob with a brilliantly creepy voice.
This experience is juxtaposed with chilling accounts such as the victim of a Bosnian rape camp who compares her vagina to a “dead animal.”
Dwyer’s performance of the monologue is moving and her accent is impressive.
The piece is sobering for the lively audience.
The set is low-key with each actress sitting on a chair with a microphone and at first I was unsure of how much fun you can have (on stage) with three women sitting on chairs.As it turns out, quite a lot.
There are laugh-out-loud moments alongside extremely tragic ones and sometimes the production doesn’t quite strike the right balance.
The out-of-character moments, although informative, go a bit too ‘Loose Women’ for my liking on occasion.
Rachel, 24, who was in the audience, said: “I really enjoyed the play but it might have been better if Bowes didn’t do the creepy voice for Bob. It was almost as if the actress’s own critique impacted the performance and showed that it’s still a bit of a taboo.”
She said works like The Vagina Monologues and Sex and the City in the 90s have almost made themselves redundant.
“Sex was already all over all the glossy magazines like Sugar and Cosmo when I was growing up but that was because of things like The Vagina Monologues and Sex and the City. My generation of girls are not ashamed of those words. The only thing in the play that was shocking for me was the abuse because that will always be shocking.”
The play is not just a performance but a project which is constantly developing with a new monologue added each year.
The Vagina Monologues may have lost some of its bite in the 21st Century, but it still does good work for women.
Ensler helped found the V-Day Movement, which campaigns to stop violence against women.
A percentage of ticket sales for every performance of the play goes towards its work.
Until women are as happy talking about their own bodies in public as they are talking about men’s, there is still be a place for The Vagina Monologues in our theatres.
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