Theatre review: Virgin, Watford Palace Theatre


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The Independent Culture

Fittingly for a play which is in part about the difficulties of saying what you think, Virgin is a little unclear as to what it thinks it is saying. EV Crowe’s play aims to explore how far our online lives mirror our offline ones, but the internet felt strangely incidental to her story. It could just as easily have been a marketing project for better roads, or a new hospital, and not a scheme to roll out broadband to rural communities, that the play’s central character, Emily (Laura Elphinstone), is trying to convince her male employers to let her lead. In fact, the play is often at its best when it deals straightforwardly with gender politics in the workplace and when the internet is left, so to speak, unconnected. 

This is frustrating as, of the play’s many underdeveloped themes, whether the internet has been a good or bad thing for feminism, has given women confidence or fostered their insecurities, has created a forum for decrying sexism or normalised regressive patriarchal values, is potentially the most interesting. Emily’s abrasive, broadband-savvy houseguest, Sally (Rosie Wyatt), worries about being overweight, and calls Emily’s mildly geeky husband ‘weird’ for staying at home looking after the baby. According to Sally, the trade-off for being able to book train tickets faster is to be told you look like a ‘fat whore’ in photos. The internet, she says, is like a ‘massive penis,’ the moment you fully realise its aggressive invasive power is the moment your virtual hymen is broken. What then does this mean for feminism? Unfortunately Crowe’s exegesis penetrates no further.

Laura Elphinstone’s high energy performance as Emily gives the narrative some much needed drive. Her scenes with predatory work colleague, Thomas (a well-observed turn from Simon Darwen), are among the most successful in the play and best showcase Crowe’s uncanny ability to capture casual speech and workplace jargon.

There are many nice touches, but not enough to compensate for the flimsiness of a drama which ultimately fails to say much more than sometimes the internet can be a good thing and other times not so good, and that a few men are patriarchal bastards.

26 September – 19 October