Actresses avoid a very private part

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The Independent Online
THE MONOLOGUE has been described as "beautiful", yet the grandes dames of British theatre seem keen to avoid delivering it. On 14 February, The Old Vic in London will bring together a prestigious international cast to recite The Vagina Monologues, but the subject matter is proving a little embarrassing for some of our more mature actresses.

The cast will include the American screen stars Melanie Griffith and Calista Flockhart (TV's Ally McBeal), Australian Golden Globe winner Cate Blanchett, British model Sophie Dahl, actresses Natascha McElhone and Thandie Newton and writers Meera Syal and Kathy Lette.

The event is being held to raise money for women's and children's charities, particularly to help victims of domestic and sexual violence. But producer Chrissie Tiller, an associate education officer with the National Theatre, who has been putting together the performance, has found that one of the monologues, a speech for the older woman called "Down There" is proving particularly hard to cast.

"It's the most beautiful piece for an older woman. I have tried all the grandes dames of British theatre," Ms Tiller said yesterday. "But they are frightened by the subject matter and I haven't yet been able to cast it. I wanted Eileen Atkins; and of course I have tried Judi Dench and Diana Rigg and many others. People have been frightened off."

The monologues are written by the American playwrightEve Ensler and arose from her asking 200 women: "If it could talk, what would it say?" Ms Ensler performed the monologues last night at the King's Head Theatre in north London.At a charity performance in New York, Hollywood stars including Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon performed, and the part of the older woman was played by American actress Shirley Knight. Whoopi Goldberg had a piece written especially for her, called "My Angry Vagina."

But, despite its star names, the American gala failed to find corporate sponsorship and Ms Ensler said at the time: "There was not one sponsor. No one will touch vaginas. If this was Clint Eastwood or Robert Redford in a play about penises, mark my words, they would have corporate funding."

Next month's performance at The Old Vic will also be without corporate sponsorship, despite the Association of Business Sponsorship of the Arts reporting this week that sponsorship was running at record levels.

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