REVIEW: The Vagina Monologues (Te Pou)

Review by Matt Baker

Shapeshift Collective present The Vagina Monologues

[Make V-Day Count]

Shapeshift Collective present The Vagina Monologues
Shapeshift Collective present The Vagina Monologues

Two years after its premiere in 1996, The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler resulted in the launch of V-Day (February 14), a global movement aimed at ending violence against women. This month is Auckland Pride Festival, and this week, all around the world, The Vagina Monologues have opened. Comprised predominantly of third year students and graduates from Unitec, and directed by Voice Lecturer Alex Whitham, the cast of Shape Shift Collective’s production are at the top of their game at this early stage in the respective careers. They have passion, but, more importantly, they have the craft and the talent to present it.

From Adam Rohe’s quiet introspection in’The Vagina Workshop’ and Sadia Gordon’s brilliantly balanced comedic-rage in ‘My Angry Vagina’, to Irasa Siave’s vocal cadence with the poetry in ‘My Vagina Was My Village’ and Grace Augustine’s vocal prowess in ‘The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy’, each of the nine performers bring a unique strength and perspective to the stories they tell. In addition to the ten monologues, Whitham and her cast integrate vocal and physical vignettes, which intimate both the fun and intenstiy of the rehearsal process.

Watching this fresh and daring talent, I can’t help but wonder why I haven’t seen the play before. We need more. I want to see these performers in a bigger theatre, side by side with Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Amanda Billing and Jennifer Ludlam; a rite of passage for not only the actresses in our country, but our audiences too. (Editor’s Note: The last production in Auckland was 2010 at The Basement)

Why? Because The Vagina Monologues has not been without its criticisms. Even when being confronted with the various words for female genitalia as addressed by the well-tempered directness of Melissa Cameron, the triggers go off. I hear the sharp intake of breath from the woman behind me at the word “cunt”. I hear the smiles in the voices of the audience members who chant the word back. I feel the triggers going off in me. I reflect on my role as an audience member, a critic, and a man. I think about the women in my life; past, present, and future. I think of the words I’ve used, and I am both proud and ashamed.

Words are powerful. Women need to speak, and men and women need to listen. What would your vagina say? It’s a provocative question. Personifying a part of the anatomy that epitomises the objectivity to which so many women are subjected.

The only potential problem with The Vagina Monologues is that it may go unseen by the people who need to see it the most. I think of the fact that the ticket sales and donations from the fundraiser gala prior to the final performance* go to Auckland Women’s Refuge, and wonder how many of the women who have used those services or the men who have put them there will see this work. Like TAPAC, Te Pou’s location outside of Auckland’s “theatre district” (corner of Queen Street and Mayoral Drive down to The Civic?) and lack of mainstream publicity means that shows in this venue often pass unnoticed by the general public, let alone those in and around the industry. I certainly hope I am wrong,

* Fundraiser Gala begins at 4:30pm on February 14.

The Vagina Monologues is presented by Shape Shift Collective and plays at Te Pou until February 14. For details see Te Pou.

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