Do women truly know their own bodies and how do outside factors help in constructing our view of it? These questions, amongst many other resonating questions with the modern woman are explored in actor/writer Bella Heesom’s two hander about women’s battle between our brain and our vagina when thinking about sex and sexuality.
First off, Elizabeth Harper’s set strikes you as you walk into the Ovalhouse theatre. A beautiful combination of earthy tones, paired with Harper’s simplistic costume design, help to root Heesom’s explorations to our naturalistic beginnings.
Heesom and her co-star, Sara Alexander, present a series of sketches and interpretative dance sequences going from comical, to fourth-wall breaking, to poignant: all of which are backdropped by text displaying myths or common ideas about female anatomy or sexuality. There is not one woman who cannot relate to at least one of the myths or feelings being explored: the idea of sex as a performance, the pressure to lose or keep your virginity, the judgement behind how often you do or do not have sex, the shame behind female masterbation and the struggle for a female orgasm all being questioned.
Heesom has produced something slightly Beckett-esque, where it feels like there can be multiple interpretations to each aspect, with elements of meta-theatre. For example, after a number of intensely moving scenes where both Heesom and Alexander are stripped bare, we are snapped back to reality with Alexander saying how she ‘needs to put her clothes back on, as it’s quite chilly’. The juxtaposing of feelings creates a dramedy feel, something hugely popular at the moment with the rise of tv shows like Fleabag and Back To Life.
Heesom and Alexander encourage just the right amount of audience interaction in Act I, with Alexander’s comic timing needing applause in itself. However, audience interaction is taken to another level in Act II; as it is actually a discussion session, where the audience are invited to sit and get comfy on stage, and to voice thoughts and opinions on the themes within the piece. As much as Act II provides interesting discussion, it felt like awkward and forced therapy at times, and is perhaps more suited to a theatre in education setting. At points you feel very connected to the other women in the room, and it’s reassuring to hear others voice similar experiences to yourself; however ultimately this is all gained during Act I alone.
In a time where a plethora of female stories and experiences are being explored through theatre, Rejoicing At Her Wondrous Vulva The Young Woman Applauded Herself is an exciting work that needs to be seen by men and women alike – but only needs one act to make its impact. It’ll be interesting to see how this work develops, as Heesom is working with the producers of Killing Eve on adapting this into a television series. Watch this space!