Comedy is a common trope within feminist theatre. The harrowing recollection of misogynistic encounters is another. Rarely, however, are the two so artfully entwined to reflect today’s enduring gender binary. Yet The Völvas, a feminist performance ensemble, launch the audience from one emotion to the next with scenes presenting implicit and explicit sexism through both harrowing and humorous means; mid-production, it’s hard to tell who is crying with laughter or sadness.
‘The Vagina Dialogues: 2 Fast, 2 Feminist’ flits through emotions like the supposedly ever-changing nature of a woman’s personality. But if you can’t keep up, that’s not on these women or any others in times past; it is not a reflection of inherent female traits, but on misogynistic machinations that too often hit you square in the face before you can contemplate the previous assault.
The Völvas effectively demonstrate how comedy can communicate paradigms of patriarchy. Often seen as a defense mechanism – a fourth wall through which one filters a message – the show’s humour does offer light-hearted relief. It is, more importantly, also a method of magnification to topics like sexual assault, rape, or unexpected pregnancy – a theatrical chiaroscuro of sorts.
The funny amongst the foul ensures audiences a #metoo moment. Comedy arguably greater enables the purpose of the hashtag; a movement designed to create cohesion amongst sexual assault victims of any kind, but one which can be exclusionary for those unwilling or unable to discuss their private trauma. But female, male, introvert and extrovert can laugh in alliance as comedian Sian Brett narrates inane boredom at work, accompanied with Spice Girls lyrics and abundantly apologetic emails, or as Nancy Ofori and MJ Ashton present the pinnacle of sexual exasperation, using the simple yet effective prop of juggling balls in an effort to demythologise the female orgasm. It’s hilariously relatable as it explores more subtle, introverted sexism, but it also gently encourages an easier acknowledgement of #metoo memories.
The actors reveal the breadth of their abilities, with Ofori and Jazmin Qunta one minute cradling each other in an emotional embrace, and the next advertising a breath spray that empowers women to fight everyday misogyny. Qunta and Grace Hudson both play guitar, and all sing, either solo or ensemble, adding to the production’s texture and talent. The energy is infectious, most explosively radiating from Ashton as she launches herself across the stage.
Performing in dresses reminiscent of the red cloaks in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, paired with delicate petticoats and heavy boots, it is a sartorial defiance of the dystopian novel’s categorisation and stereotype of women. However, each woman’s innate individuality is epitomised by the actors removal of their dress straps to bounce across the stage with comic choreography.
It is smartly stupid, designed to remind the audience that these overtly sexualised anatomical features are in fact just balls of fat on a woman’s chest. The scene also physically reflects the ensemble’s reflection and representation of women of all shapes, sizes, colour and character, and by blowing political correctness out the door, The Völvas strive to correct gender politics in a play accessible to any audience.
The Vagina Dialogues: 2 Fast, 2 Feminist is showing as part of VAULT Festival 14-18 February. For bookings, see the VAULT festival website.