Review: Eve Ensler’s The Fruit Trilogy

By April 7, 2016




Image courtesy of the Southbank Centre

Neither fruity nor fun, The Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler’s latest is a harrowing but unmissable theatre experience. Following her contribution to last year’s ‘A Play, A Pie and A Pint’ series, Ensler has introduced Pomegranate and Coconut to last year’s Avocado, completing the appropriately-named Fruit Trilogy.

These three short plays explore Ensler’s usual themes of female degradation, oppression and emancipation, in precisely that order. Whether intentional or not, the plays suit the fruits of their titles. Avocado shows a woman hardened by life’s experiences gradually revealing her softness, while Coconut exposes a woman’s embracement of her naked body, like coconut milk hidden beneath its hard shell. And, similar to opening a pomegranate fruit, Pomegranate is… a bit of a mess.

Amelia Donkor%2c Item 1 and Carla Harrison-Hodge Item 2%2c Pomegranate%2c The Fruit Trilogy. Photo 5. © Alice the Camera 2016

©Alice the Camera

Pomegranate must be praised for its incredible stage design, but it’s hindered by an esoteric script, far removed from natural-sounding dialogue. ‘Stop obfuscating!’ snaps a character at one point. The play’s central idea of prostitutes as toys on a shelf is visually striking, but the allegory is muddled.  Where a bit more humour might have strengthened the impact, the resulting message feels a bit hammered in.

Avocado emerges a far more profound piece of work that is truly the trilogy’s centrepiece. We uncover a woman’s experience of sexual slavery in gruesome, upsetting detail and it’s testament to Ensler’s skill that her nuanced character development overrides any sense of provocation. The story may be fictional, but the emotions feel true and the ending is deliciously ambiguous. It’s an astounding piece of writing, brought vividly to life by the excellent Carla Harrison-Hodge.

Amelia Donkor%2c Woman%2c Coconut%2c The Fruit Trilogy. Photo 4 © Alice the Camera 2016

©Alice the Camera

It is the show’s climatic piece Coconut, however, that will linger long in the memory. After a lulling introduction of a woman relaxing in her bathroom, we witness a personal foot-massage that veers violently between painful and pleasurable, just the beginning of our uncomfortable viewing experience. When the woman strips off her clothes and the house lights come up, the audience are no longer the observers and this is where Ensler makes her message clear. It needs to be seen to be appreciated, but this is much more than provocative theatre. Instead, Coconut challenges our ideas of bodily discovery, embracement and ownership, and it makes for powerful viewing.

It may have been twenty years since The Vagina Monologues, but Eve Ensler hasn’t lost her touch. This is stark, brutal, emotive theatre – emblazoned with fierce performances from Harrison-Hodge and Amelia Donkor – and, while Ensler’s plays are known for being controversial, there’s nothing unnecessary in this unflinching trio. The stories may be hard to watch, but they’re based on very real lives and, even in it’s weaker moments, The Fruit Trilogy is nothing less than compelling.

The Fruit Trilogy will be playing at West Yorkshire Playhouse until April 9th.