The Vagina Monologues has been wowing audiences in London's West End for two years. Excellent word of mouth has meant that the play has never been short of volunteers for its ever-rotating three-strong cast.
For the opening night of this new touring production, which replicates the chop-and-change casting from venue to venue, the audience are excited but edgy, not quite knowing what to expect. Some men cower in hen-pecked fashion whilst, in other corners of the auditorium, women sit on the edge of their seats with a "tell me something new" look on their faces.
As soon as our three hostesses - Mel B, Mina Wadia and Ingeborga Dapkunaite at The Lowry - step out on to the stage, it's clear that this is going to be a real fun and unique evening. The pop star appears comfortable talking about how women feel about their vaginas, and her ease transcends to the stalls and beyond; comedienne Wadia raises the comic temperature with her hilariously orgasmic contributions; and actress Dapkunaite transforms herself into a Bosnian gang-rape victim, stunning and silencing a lively audience.
Writer Eve Ensler, who has based the monologues on hundreds of interviews with real women, pushes out the boundaries with this show that encourages women to talk freely about "down there". But if you imagine this to be a gimmick-filled event or PC piece of theatre, think again. Thankfully, there are no "been there, done that" menopause-inspired anecdotes. Instead, the topics on offer range from the silly but amusing - "What would your vagina wear?", Vagina-obsessed Bob - to the genuinely moving.
You never quite know what is coming next. And despite the static limitations of three women just sitting on a stage reading from cue sheets, the material remains fresh, funny and, speaking as a man, quite educational. I never thought that three women essentially reading from cue sheets could be so funny, moving and at the same time educational.
This is universal vivacious theatre with a capital 'V.' I will never to think of what's "downstairs again" in a giggly Carry On film way. Go for it, girls! I feel empowered, too.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at The Lowry in Salford)
To read a review of the previous West End production of this show, click here.