Soap stars at Spa

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THE Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler’s hilarious Broadway and West End show, comes to the Spa Grand Hall next Wednesday, at 7.30pm. The three performers include Wendi Peters and Louisa Lytton, who spoke to Veronica Lee about the show.

It’s a mark of the appeal of The Vagina Monologues that it is still being performed across the world 15 years after Eve Ensler wrote it.

The monologues, adapted by the American author from women’s personal histories and testimonies, range from the philosophical to the comic and rather rude.

The latest UK tour has a cast of well-known soap stars. Wendi Peters, 43, who used to play Cilla Battersby Brown in Coronation Street, is looking forward to a longer run in the show after doing short stints on previous tours. “I’ve done all the monologues except one, which is written for a very young woman, and I love doing them. “It’s such a fun evening for actresses and audiences alike, but at the same time you come away from the theatre thinking about things.” Louisa Lytton, 22, has also previously performed the monologues before. “I have my favourites and when I was performing with Anita Dobson last year she did My Angry Vagina and had me in fits. But I’m happy to do any of them because they are all brilliant,” says Louisa, who has been in The Bill and Strictly Come Dancing, and who played troubled teenager Ruby Allen in EastEnders.

Ensler was recently given another award for her humanitarian work. In 1998 she established V-Day, a global non-profit movement, to draw attention to violence against women. British productions of The Vagina Monologues - including national tours and in the West End - have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity in the UK, and tens of millions have been raised abroad. Louisa says: “Lately, Eve has been involved in projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape has been used as a weapon of war.”

Wendi says that Ensler’s humanitarian work connected with The Vagina Monologues is worth bringing to broader attention. “My husband works for ChildLine, so I know about the importance of raising these issues with people, even if they are not personally affected by them,” she says. Louisa works with Body Gossip, a national campaign to promote good body image among youngsters. “We’ve become obsessed with the ‘perfect’ body in the media and we need to get the message across that it doesn’t exist.” Wendi and Louisa are well known to the public because of their TV work, but both relish the opportunity The Vagina Monologues gives them to step out of their soap roles and public perceptions of them as individuals.

“I’m a strong lady, but nothing like Cilla. She was a terrible mother, a terrible person, but despite that I love being associated with her because she has led to me doing so many other things, including this. But some people do find it difficult to switch off - I hope audiences will see that I’m quite a jolly person.” Despite having portrayed tough or mouthy women, the actors still have trepidation about using the c-word in The Vagina Monologues. Wendi says: “It can leave some people a bit shell-shocked, but it’s certainly cathartic for the actors. I approach it as if I were Hyacinth Bucket [the character from the BBC1 sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, played by Patricia Routledge], in the manner of a person you would never expect to say the word.”

Louisa recalls her previous appearance in The Vagina Monologues, when she simulated an orgasm on stage: “My nan came along and I was pretty worried, to be honest. But she loved it and thought it was brilliant. But that’s the point - people of all ages, men and women, can enjoy the show.” Wendi agrees. “It’s become known as a girls’ night out, but it’s definitely something men can enjoy too,” she says. “My husband thought it was a bit intimidating being among so many women, but he really enjoyed it and said it was a real eye-opener for men.” The Vagina Monologues also features Zaraah Abrahams, who has been in Waterloo Road, Coronation Street and Dancing on Ice. She stood in for Tiana Benjamin, who pulled out.

The West End run included Maureen Lipman, Sophie Dahl, Dannii Minogue and Jenni Éclair. On Broadway, the show has been performed by Glenn Close, Jane Fonda and Whoopi Goldberg.

The press love it. It has been called “laugh out loud funny” in the Independent and “theatrical genius” in the Times.

The Sunday Times called it “warm, open, exciting, enchantingly funny, liberating... See it, even if you haven’t got one.”