Pointing the finger of praise at these Monologues

Review by David Munro

I NEVER thought when, to quote Cole Porter, I reached the charming age of puberty and began to finger feminine curls, I would sit for nearly two hours in a packed theatre and listen to three charming actresses discuss the portion of their anatomy which, at that age, I would have preferred to finger.

Despite the implications in its title, The Vagina Monologues, at Richmond Theatre, is neither salacious, nor pornographic. In fact, it is an effective method of focussing attention on the abuses suffered by women, because they are women, and deemed weaker and inferior for that reason.

An old and hoary complaint, but here made more powerful by the skill with which it is presented in this series of tales and cris de Coeur, which make up the evening's entertainment.

Militant - yes; one sided - yes; but a powerful and, in this case, well-presented argument against such abuse or abuses.

I was asked if I really wanted to go and see this piece and, had I had been truthful at that time, I would have said 'no', but I was enticed by the promise of seeing Miriam Margolies, Rula Lenska and Jenny Éclair on stage at one and the same time and that promise was spectacularly fulfilled.

Someone once said they could sit and listen transfixed to John Gielgud reading a telephone directory. I know now what they meant after the evening I spent in the company of these three fascinating and talented ladies, discoursing on the woes of women which, at any other time, would have driven me from the theatre.

I realise that the monologues have been performed here, there and everywhere by a succession of well-known, and some not so well-known, actresses but these three are the only ones for me. They bring humour, pathos and a gutsiness to the delivery of their words, which bring their somewhat offbeat dissertation and the message behind it to an effective, vivid and totally believable life.

I cannot conceive (if that be the mot juste in this circumstances) any three actresses/comediennes who could have performed their task in a more satisfactory manner, making one want to laugh and cry at the same time at the injustices caused to women.

Their professionalism surmounted the somewhat didactic arguments they were propounding and turned a sermon on man's inhumanity to women into an evening of sheer and utterly enjoyable theatre and, at the same time, put over the authoress's point in a forceful, pungent, even poignant, manner.

Miriam Margolies was the earth mother, Rula Lenska the soignée woman and Jenny Éclair (pictured) the wayward wench; all portraying effortlessly the various facets of the female persona. One is tempted to describe them as the voice of new labia but would one have received the same sane presentation of an intellectual and intelligible argument from Blair, Brown and Blunkett as one got from these three? I, for one, beg to doubt it!

They worked the audience with the skill and professionalism one has come to expect from such accomplished ladies and had it eating out of their hand (I nearly wrote something else, which, in the circumstances, might have been more apropos, given the theme of the evening) and the roar of approbation they received at the end of the evening was richly deserved.

Do not be put off by any doubts raised by the title - forget them and go to see three queens of the theatre ruling the stage at Richmond. Vivat! Vivat! Vagina!

The Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler. Directed by Irina Brown, design by Buddy Christie, lighting by Tim Mascall. WITH: Jenny Éclair, Rula Lenska and Miriam Margolies. Until Saturday, November 30, 2002. Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 1QJ. Box Office: 020 8940 0088.