Buchanan Lecture Theatre, 23 March 2011
Scandalous, candid and sharp: three words that could be used to describe V-Day St Andrews’ production of The Vagina Monologues. This special event was perhaps unlike anything ever encountered by audience members, but the new experience certainly resounded well.
The Buchanan lecture theatre was perhaps an unusual choice of venue, but this was an unusual play. Eve Ensler’s series of monologues, all about women’s experiences of – you guessed it – their vaginas, could not be performed in a conventional fashion: the taboo around the subject, revealed by Ensler in an interview as one of the reasons behind creating this piece, cries out for a radical interpretation. It’s about real women and real experiences: staging the production in our lecture theatre brought the production down to a relatable level; the stories recounted in the monologues seemed as though they were just stories being told by our friends. Perhaps this is what Ensler would want for her masterpiece: women to be aware of their fellow sisters’ experiences.
As many will already be aware, Ensler wrote the monologues in 1996 with the intention of raising awareness of abuse, violence and neglect suffered by so many women across the globe every day. All royalties from performances, originally a limited run off-Broadway, would go to the charity ‘V-Day’, which supports women enduring these atrocities. The project has found great success: it is now performed on or around ‘V-Day’ every year in theatres, colleges, universities and many more. Ensler has said in interviews that the venture has superseded any expectations she ever imagined about the play’s success. It is now a global movement, and has raised over $75 million for women’s anti-violence groups.
The St Andrews production followed the tradition, and donated all proceeds from ticket sales to the Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre; a worthy cause. Perhaps it was not the most polished production, with a bare set and a couple of hiccups with lines, but this did not really matter: you could argue that it added to the ‘real’ feeling of the piece. The teacher-type actress that stood at the lectern and recited hard-hitting facts was an effective dramatic device for opening the audience’s eyes to the issues raised in the monologues in a more blunt fashion. However, the production was not all polemic rants about the repression of women; there were many laughs. On what other occasion does a body of staff and students ensconced in the Buchanan unanimously shout ‘the C word’ repeatedly? Another unforgettable moment was when the actress reciting the last monologue gave her rendition of ‘The St Andrews moan of pleasure’: a series of increasingly intense cries of ‘Yah’! This seemed so resounding in the audience’s mind that one Facebook comment reads ‘every person who went to see The Vagina Monologues wants to have sex with Tessa Stokes’.
When I told friends that I was going to see The Vagina Monologues, they immediately asked ‘why would you want to watch that feminist rant?’ It is true, there is a certain stigma surrounding this play; many people expect it to be a bra-burning polemic. I must admit that I was half expecting it myself. However, it really was not like that: yes, there were moments when female empowerment was highly encouraged, but not without good reason. As was frequently emphasised in the piece, one in three women have suffered abuse, mental or physical. This is what the project wants to stop. The production was very successful in this respect: it portrayed the powerful message with the right balance of funny and serious. Yes, perhaps in a ‘feminist’ way, but does it matter? If feminism is about preventing suffering of women, then I want to be labelled a feminist. Wouldn’t you?