The Vagina Monologues – Festival Theatre, The Studio

Play by Eve Ensler

Information relating to the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Charity can be found at their website: https://www.ercc.scot

Say it with me everyone: “Vagina”. Say it even louder for the men in the back. The Vagina Monologues, for all its criticism, may be one of the most influential theatrical texts ever put into production. There’s a reason why two decades later it is still built upon. July 7th saw a reading of Eve Ensler’s episodic play which looks into female body image, sexual experiences (consensual and non), sex work and a variety of other topics. Monologues from the play focus on sexual assault, comfort women and body image are given a platform in aid of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, with 100% of all profits benefiting the charity.

Despite a mere two weeks rehearsal time, the five performers onstage channel a staggering level of commitment, professionalism and heart. Their performances are nothing short of heart-wrenching. Not only because of their embedded talents, but a tremendous amount lies in the fact that these women aren’t acting, despite the accents, the laughs and the characters. The stories they are telling, the cause they are hosting this evening for – is their lives.

In aid of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, the reading is compressed into appropriate material to remain on subject. There’s a clever balance of topic foundation, easing those unfamiliar before communicating the facts, hatreds and degeneracy of reality. For over forty years, ERCC continues to provide emotional, mental and practical support for women, non-binary, young people and the trans community. As if this service wasn’t enough, they engage with a plethora of preventative discussion, information and much-sought advocacy for those who have experienced sexual violence at any time in their life.

Every year, a new ‘chapter’ is added into The Vagina Monologues following the inspiration day known as V-Day. In 2006, a segment on Comfort Women was added, this is what closes out our performance – tightening the link between the chosen text and tonight’s charity. Last year TIME magazine tore open a subject many prefer to forget, the ‘punishment’ many women faced following the Second World War. The sequence is nothing short of a mountainous emotional smack of truth. All of the frustrations and agony women suffer placed on the floor in-front of us with the utterance “now what”. Anyone who has given their time for the evening has done something noteworthy, from the performers to the lighting operators and of course, the front of the house.

A heap of gratitude is to be given to Capital Theatres and Linda from customer service who listened to one women’s cry of: “I’m angry, and I need to do something about this”. Help is precisely what we in a creative community can strive to do. We have a position of accessibility, a presence to mobilise and a space to offer those who not only have a production to stage, but a message to encourage and even better a charity to empower.

Productions like these make you want to write. They make you want to type furiously for days and days and weeks and years until something, anything is done. There’s only so far outrage can extend before action is the response. Because here’s the secret. People are tired. They’re tired of rape culture, rape jokes and judicial decisions on what constitutes rape. We’re tired of putting our keys between our knuckles on a late walk home. Tired of seeing wealthy, ‘good family’ men walk free, and we’re beyond exhausted of the shaming, punishment and hushed words around women who courageously come forward.

I use the term ‘we’ rather than women because it is we. It’s you, me and everyone you know. This evening isn’t only about performance. It’s a rallying call that after all this time, we still need to have charity evenings like this. One day, The Vagina Monologues will (hopefully) stage its performances for history, rather than to protect the future. It will be staged as a way to remind ourselves what we fought for, instead of what we are still fighting for.

Until then, dig deep. Donate your time, your money and offer your support to the likes of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre. Sometimes it isn’t all about the money. You can help challenge abusive behaviour, encourage and support others to speak out – but most importantly to believe those who come to you disclosing sexual violence. This evening isn’t solely about the harrows of life, but the joys in coming together to establish a conversation. From a women’s first period, to the thrill in discovering her body – and the insecurities around this. You’ll be left curious, angry, empowered, enraged and have had a few chuckles too.

And if, like these five young women you are able – perform. Write, sing, shriek, holler, dance – do whatever we can to keep these stories alive and in the faces of those who would rather they faded into obscurity. That’s precisely what an archaic system would like – silence. So, let’s say it one last time: “Vagina”, because nothing upsets the Patriarchy quite like a pussy which roars.

Women in Parliament – Lauriston Hall

Original Play – Aristophanes

New Translation by Andrew Wilson

Stage Director and Design by Michael Scott

Tickets available for June 27th and 28th from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament

In translating, an impressive feat, to begin with, Andrew Wilson does an exceptional job in capturing the original structure, satire and levity of Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae or Women in Parliament. It has all the comforts of ancient Greece; hookers, cross-dressing and poo, but it has a distinct Lothians stamp of lively dance, song and self-depreciation.

Athens of the North, Edinburgh to you and I. She shares a tremendous amount with her sister to the South, they both value a feast, a tremendous sense of culture and a responsibility towards democracy, right? Well, far from it really. Time moves forward, we evolve, we advance – but politics roughly remains the same. An assortment of privilege, wealth and lacking in diversity. Aristophanes wrote a series of plays in which the foolishness of men, was highlighted by women. He wasn’t a revolutionary feminist, however. Instead, the women are merely a way to highlight the absurdity of government, how they ‘argue solutions but never come to conclusion’.

Pictured: Hazel Eadie

If for a second you suspect this to have a hidden agenda, with a profound political message and commentary – then all the power to you. Women in Parliament, in keeping with its ancient counterpart, revels in the ludicrous nature of its construction. It isn’t pushing a ‘feminist’ agenda but instead firing pointed harpoons at the current states of government. No one is safe. Not Tory, nor Liberal, Nor defenceless Jeremy Corbyn.

While in the North, it seems fitting to amend the text with Scots dialect and reference. Outside of the Political, Wilson’s translation achieves some of its distinct humour through Aristophanes second favourite pastime after sex – defecating. Oh yes, scatological witticism is rife in the Streets of Athens this evening, so please watch your footing. For those unfamiliar, you will need a slight adjustment time to the toilet humour, but once consigning yourself to the loose bowels of Blepyrus (Mike Towers) you’ll be sure to snigger along.

He, along with Chris Allan, brings a sense of false patriarchal grandeur to the proceedings. Allan, in particular, holds the constant stage presence this evening. Standing against this – leading a procession of marching women determined to undermine the Men of government, who were clearly doing such an exceptional job, are Prazxagora (Angela Estrada) and her crew of disgruntled, beard-clad women.

Pictured: Angela Estrada

Estrada, arguably our lead turns a stellar performance with what is an undoubtedly complex script. While others may stumble and fade, she keeps her pacing and level of authority. She has a way with words which draws our ear immediately, illustrating parallels with other ‘silver-tongued’ world leaders.

Mainly on the fault of Aristophanes (easier to blame the centuries deceased) than Wilson, classical texts traditionally have an altogether different style of pacing. Any accustomed to the likes of Lysistrata will recognise the structure, short finale and bloated early scenes. Scott, along with the cast, seems to anticipate this – making jabs at the audiences snoozing’s and interacting to keep their attention.

Design in mind, Michael Scott’s thrust style staging places the action in the centre of Lauriston Hall. We’re effectively on the back benches observing the baboons dance before us. A backdrop, a tart’s boudoir pink splashed across some doors and windows make for comical entrances, exits and scene change signage. This, along with Gordon Hughes’ lighting design makes for an intense richness from this evening’s performance. Never has a brothel looked quite as sinisterly appealing, or so we are informed…Emily Nash and Gordon Horne doing their best to both entice and repulse us.

Pictured: Colin Povey and Charlie Munro

With such a large venue, quite often our eyes drift to something happening far across the stage. The inclusion of slaves David Cree, Robert Seaton and Alasdair Watson make for slapstick scene changes, but when their buffoon antics occur several feet from where our attention should be focusing, it’s quite distracting.

So, no need to take a visit to ancient Greece, we seem to be living it. Athens of the North’s presentation of Women in Parliament is a delightful homage to Aristophanes’ original, injecting its own Scottish heritage through rhyming verse. It has issues with pacing, a few wayward performances and complexity in a narrative which will be lost on many, but it’s an appealing text, rich in satire and playfulness. A production worthy of support, a delicate blend of classical literature and toilet jokes – what’s not to love?

Runs until June 28th, tickets available from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament

Valentina’s Galaxy @ Assembly Roxy

Video rights: Frozen Charlotte Productions

Produced by Frozen Charlotte

Presented by Imaginate and Edinburgh International Science Festival

Intended for viewers aged around two years old, Valentina’s Galaxy speaks in particular to girls in the audience. Inspired by the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, and the first black woman in space, Mae C. Jemison, Frozen Charlotte’s production introduces kids to the universe with immersive detail and visual splendour.

Astrid is celebrating her birthday when a letter arrives from Nasa. Astrid has more or less given up on her dreams of being an astronaut, but with some gentle encouragement, she is reminded of why this was once her goal. This protaganist is relatable, falling out of love with her childhood passion, but also a tad two-dimensional.

As Astrid, Melanie Jordan engages with the children in the audience, becoming more involved as time progresses. There’s a sense that the production team had a little too much faith in well-behaved viewers – furthermore, it feels a little like information’s being flung at the audience, rather than letting us unravel the story ourselves.

With inspiration as poignant as the first female astronauts, much is done to commemorate them. The old banger of a telly in the corner serves to show footage of Tereshkova’s launch and time in space. The set is right out of a 1960s catalogue, but much of the lighting by Gerron Stewart is utilised for tricks and locale changes – kitchen instruments and cupboards double as spacecraft consoles and a plethora of buttons, and a screen in place of a window makes for fluid trasitions from kitchen domesticity to the darkness of space. 

What lets it down slightly is that the design and intent overshadows the story and delivery. Valentina’s Galaxy as a performance is methodical and somewhat constrained, never quite living up to the wackiness of its set.  

A blanket of celestial astonishment canopies the theatre at the end of the production. If nothing onstage has moved you thus far, the sparks of passion on the faces of all those beneath the stars is an embodiment of hope. Valentina’s Galaxy pays homage to the first women in space, while encouraging the next generation of stargazers. This is theatre looking not only to the past but well into the future; it’s worth seeing for its rich, magical visuals, even if it could do with some recrafting. 

Review originaly published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/valentina-s-galaxy-assembly-roxy-edinburgh

Imaginate: https://www.imaginate.org.uk/festival/whats-on/valentinas-galaxy/