`Vagina Monologues': back to basics on St Valentine's Day

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The Independent Online
FORGET ROSES and candlelight. When some of the world's most talented women got together on St Valentine's Day yesterday all they wanted to do was talk about vaginas.

The occasion was V Day, a celebrity performance at the Old Vic in London of The Vagina Monologues, the American playwright Eve Ensler's witty and provocative literary exploration of the most intimate part of a women's anatomy.

The actresses Gillian Anderson, Kate Winslet, Melanie Griffith and Cate Blanchett were among a cast of about 20 women, spanning television, stage, music and literature.

Ensler created the monologues, a mix of fact and fiction, after interviewing 200 women from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds, including a Bosnian rape victim and Jewish septuagenarian who had rarely thought about "Down There" since being shamed into denial by her first boyfriend's show of disgust.

Chrissie Tiller, the producer, said the cast had taken a while to join the London show. "Meera Syal was the first person to come on board and it was very uphill in the beginning. Some of the young women are at a stage in their career where I wondered if they would risk it, but women like Sophie Dahl, who had seen a production in New York, were delighted to be asked," she said.

A few of the cast had expressed nervousness in rehearsal but, Ensler said, when they went on stage and began working as a group they were empowered by the piece. Last year's charity performance in New York, which included stars such as Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon, failed to raise any corporate sponsorship.

UK businesses were equally reticent. Only one company put up sponsorship for last night's concert in aid of charities working to end violence against women and children. "A champagne company said they couldn't be associated with such a negative thing, as did a public relations company," Ensler said.

Eve Ensler's introduction to the Vagina Monologue:

"I bet you're worried. I was worried. That's why I began this piece. I was worried about the vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don't think about them. I was worried about my own vagina. It needed a context of other vaginas - a community, a culture of vaginas. There's so much darkness and secrecy surrounding them - like the Bermuda Triangle. Nobody ever reports back from there. In the first place, it's not so easy even to find your vagina. Women go weeks, months, sometimes years without looking at it. I interviewed a high-powered businesswoman who told me she was too busy. Looking at your vagina, she said, is a full day's work. You have to get down there on your back in front of a mirror that's standing on its own, full-length preferred."