Anuli Changa finds empowerment and diversity in the University of Manchester’s production of the 1996 play
Empowering, inspirational, and beyond relatable, this performance was based on the original episodic play The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. The original play was written and originally performed in the 90s dealing with topics such as consensual and non-consensual sexual experiences, body image, and genital mutilation, and was criticised for being anti-transgender, anti-feminist and lacking in cultural diversity.
This year’s University of Manchester rendition of the monologues kept some of the original script but also updated the performance with pieces written by the women performing and in a wonderful display of diversity. Complete with vagina-themed cocktails and Reclaim the Night t-shirts on sale, the night had great whimsy but also moments of sombre realisation, as each monologue or spoken word piece resonated with the audience for endless different reasons.
The monologues were presented in association with the Women’s Theatre Society (created in September 2017). The society aims to be inclusive for all identifying women. Open to those experienced in theatre and beginners, a charitable society linked with Independent Choices (a domestic violence charity).The event itself was charitable , as it is every year, the proceeds of the show going to Manchester Rape Crisis (as are the sales of the Reclaim the Night T-shirts).
The whole performance was raw and engaging, with a plethora of voices and performance styles. Amy Rose opened up the conversation about women who haven’t experienced orgasms and the stark realisation that erectile dysfunction is combatted with Viagra and more but women don’t often voice how they feel about their sexual experiences.
Fikeyinmi Odulaja delivered a rousing spoken word about consent and the prolific rape myths that people use to qualify turning blame on the victims because of their dress, or behaviour or how much alcohol they’ve consumed. Holly Khambatta shed light on the exclusion she experienced due to her disabilities, people are so quick to exclude anyone different from the conversations. I was appalled to hear her story about being sent to the library to work during the sex education and STI assembly at school.
Seevana Raghubeer was another impressive performer, with her spoken word that encompassed so much, relating to all ages and genders, demonstrating that we are all oppressed in some way, whether by others or by our own insecurities or some combination.
This is to name a few wonderful performances, each stood out its own way and I imagine, different performances resonated more personally for other audience members. The choice to go beyond the original script was an extremely successful one, not only modernising some of the issues but encompassing diversity in race, appearance, ability, gender identification and more.
A great authenticity was brought to the performances because some people acted their pieces, others came across as boldly speaking their truths and a further few fell somewhere inbetween. The Vagina Monologues left me inspired and emboldened and proud to call myself a woman.