Cabaret meets puppetry meets vulvae in the latest one-woman show to hit the Bread and Roses Theatre – it’s Laura-Doe’s Vaudeville of the Vulva. A first glimpse of the set makes you feel like you’re about to watch a Punch and Judy production but if you look closely at the puppet stand, you’ll see that it is intricately decorated with artistic representations of the vulva, making you reconsider its red velvet curtains.
Laura-Doe’s play consists of a series of sketches and songs all about the female sexual parts. It begins brilliantly with some gentle audience participatory ensemble singing (to songs such as ‘Do the Vulvalation’ and ‘My Vagina’), which is genuinely fun and entertaining, before vowing to address the blank space between our legs and in our vocabulary. The first few sketches are really promising but unfortunately the show is disappointing from there onwards. There is a disclaimer about any offensive or appropriated content that, rather ironically given last week’s news, is justified by a John Cleese quote about comedy. Maybe the disclaimer is needed, but I think there are better ways to handle the subject matter. This wasn’t my first one-woman show about gynaecology and I’ve seen first hand that there are lots of plays that deal with vuvlae and vaginas that manage to be much more sensitive to sexual pain, dysfunction and difference in much funnier and more compelling ways.
The show is undoubtedly educational but it relies on a certain level of cluelessness in order to have any real impact. Where the educational content is most effective is in the funniest moments, such as its dealing with ‘genital self-image’ and an exceptional balloon modelled clitoris – the latter is seriously impressive. Regrettably though, a lot of the educational matter reinforces unhelpful messages like the idea that penetrative sex is fundamentally the “main event”.
Laura-Doe carries out many fast and effective costume changes throughout the show, which has been tactfully directed by Penelope Chater. The props are equally as inspiring as the vulva puppets are beautifully designed.
Early on in the show one of Laura-Doe’s characters aptly quips, ‘when is a vagina not a vagina? Most of the time!’ But weirdly, much of this play isn’t actually about vulvae and is literally about the vagina and the pelvic floor. The overall message of this play seems seriously confused but regardless, the show explores sexuality and anatomy in ways that I doubt you’ll have experienced before.
Laura-Doe’s Vaudeville of the Vulva is played Bread and Roses Theatre until 8 June. For more information, see the Bread and Roses Theatre website.