The Vagina Dialogues – Review

(Preview Performance)

Theatre N16, Balham

28/07/17

 

vagina dialogues

Image by Celine Sophie FP

 

The Vagina Dialogues, a title more than a little reminiscent of Eve Ensler’s oft-performed 1996 work The Vagina Monologues. However, as soon as the audience enters the auditorium, in which the cast is standing in a circle humming a low, insistent tune, this piece written and performed by The Völvas, asserts itself as a fresh and urgent piece of feminist theatre for 2017.

With each section of the piece written and performed by members of the company based on their own personal experiences or interests, The Vagina Dialogues is an engaging exploration and celebration of diversity and intersectional feminism. From the light hearted segments, such as the breasty ballet (my phrase) at the opening of the piece and an hilarious and all-too-relatable song  about drunken-flirting written and performed by Jazmin Qunta, to the more serious pieces about sexual assault, racial identity, and bodily autonomy, this show  addresses an impressive range of current feminist issues. Nancy Ofori Geywu provides side-splitting comedy with a serious message in her piece about an internet-troll, Tosh, who suggests that a woman would be more beautiful if she lightened her skin. She also appears with MJ Ashton in an entertaining, recurrent exploration of the female orgasm, which the audience soon becomes invested in, as though waiting for a winning World-Cup goal. Alongside these comic pieces, some particularly note-worthy sections bring the audience to breath-held silences, as Qunta discusses a woman’s choice to have an abortion (a particularly hard-hitting piece to watch from an Irish perspective), and Ashton and Sarah Jeanpierre perform a beautiful, bittersweet movement piece.

These artists bring a contagious unadulterated anger, pride, determination and passion to the stage, reminding me of bell hooks’ words, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”  The Vagina Dialogues is an honest, empowering piece of theatre in which the creators lay themselves bare in front of the audience, and in doing so lay bare the enormous issues still faced by women in our society, and that’s something.

The Vagina Dialogues runs at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 17th-27th August.

 

 

 

Review – Bridle

King’s Head Theatre, London

11/7/17

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Originally published on The Reviews Hub

I’m just a bit much.

The heroine of Bridle is a modern woman. She is a feminist, a 21st Century feminist. She drinks, smokes, swears, spurns shame, and embraces her sexuality. She shows and tells the audience all of this, at the same time as telling an invisible and reticent but omnipresent figure of authority who, it transpires, has imprisoned her for indecency. In her world, female sexuality and agency are to be controlled and repressed, not only by social restrictions but by law. This  escalation or exaggeration of reality and the ambiguity of the setting both allow for a frank and uninhibited discussion of female sexuality.

In an era of raunch feminism, revenge porn, and hypersexuality, the line between empowerment and objectification is a constantly debated one. Bridle, written and performed by Stephanie Martin, raises interesting questions about the levels of agency of its main character; she behaves as she does just because she wants to, or does she? Though her discussion of her actions and experiences are, for the most part shameless and defiant, there are points at which she gives the impression that she felt obliged to cross lines she wasn’t comfortable with, or maintain an act that wasn’t always easy to perform. Her constant wish to entirely control her own sexuality and life more generally serves as a reminder of the many obstacles still faced by women in the pursuit of agency, often represented by the protagonist’s fair-weather-feminist boyfriend, James. He patronises her, reminding her of his feminist credentials and good intentions while denying her agency regarding her own sexuality and dismissing her desires as a product of patriarchal oppression.

Martin employs numerous effective theatrical devices and techniques to convey her story and message, using recorded voices for those of James, her imprisoner, and her father, and veering between a microphone and her own un-amplified voice to add layers to her solo performance and highlight certain points of her narrative. The ambiguity mentioned previously is an intriguing, if not always entirely effective, feature.

Within the narrative, Martin creates a recognisable but slightly altered society, gradually revealing that certain aspects of female sexuality and agency have been criminalised, but she also creates an ambiguity within her performance, breaking the fourth wall from the start and indulging in intimate and intense moments of engagement with the audience, while still delivering her narrative to the omnipresent imprisoner. Though this ambiguity does work in some ways, creating a new frame through which the audience can examine the topics Martin raises, it at times seems to be taken too far and leaves loose ends that, while they could be seen as an opportunity for the audience to make up their own minds on the subject, leave an impression of uncertainty or inconsistency regarding certain views and ideas suggested. Overall, however, Martin’s performance is an engaging and effective one, striking the balance between performance and direct interaction well, and bringing out the numerous facets of her character in a rounded yet concise development.

With no set beyond the single microphone, and only a basic lighting design, the evolution of the narrative depends almost entirely on Martin’s writing and performance and, while the writing strays a little and frays certain threads (as mentioned before), Martin delivers a thought-provoking and entertaining production that, as the old cliché goes, will first make an audience laugh, then make them think.

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