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Blood, Sweat and Vaginas

by on 3 July 2019

Tough Journey of Self-Discovery

Blood, Sweat and Vaginas

by Paula David

Barnes Fringe Festival at OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 9th July

A Review by Celia Bard

The Barnes Fringe Festival is now in its fourth year. An integral element of the Festival is its support in the development of two brand new plays. The play, Blood, Sweat and Vaginas, written and performed by Paula David is one of the two winning entries selected to be developed, refined, and performed over the course of the Festival. Performers are given the opportunity to perform their show twice, once a sneak view into a work-in-progress of the production using audience response to help in refining performance, and again as a fully, developed, and workshopped show.

One of many distinguishing features in Blood, Sweat and Vaginas is the sparse use of props. In fact, Paula David as Carolann doesn’t use them. She relies entirely on voice, physical movement, mime, song and one isolated chair, which is moved just once throughout the production. Carolann doesn’t direct any conversation to the chair, it is just there. The audience is left to interpret its symbolism, though at the end of the play its symbolism becomes clearer. To provide an interpretation in this review risks the danger of spoiling the end of the play, so this reviewer will refrain from doing so.

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Blood, Sweat and Vaginas, a monologue play, runs for about an hour. Paula David is just superb as Carolann, the main character, who invites the audience to follow her on her path of self-discovery. With her we learn who she is, meet some of the main characters in her life, share her pain and discomfort, laugh at her jokes, respect her honesty, and admire her ability to burst into song whenever her feelings threaten to overwhelm her.

Carolann is an intriguing and fascinating character, shrouded in self-doubt, but with an air of mystery about her. She oscillates between loud, outrageous, shocking behaviour to moments of intense introspection about her relationships with men, her daughter Tanya, and her inability to make love without feeling intense vaginal discomfort. Suffering from atrophic vaginitis she only slowly realises the nature of this condition, which makes the act of love such a painful one. She states that she she is not frustrated, only puzzled, and it certainly does not stop her from being sexually aroused.

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Her journey of discovery begins at the age of sixteen, her GCSE year. The dialogue here is characterised by a mixture of nervousness and humour. We follow her through the complexities of her life. Her first attempts at singing are hesitant although Paula David does just enough for the audience to realise that she is a performer with a rich, punchy but melodious voice. Continuing this journey of self-discovery, we learn about Carolann’s insensitive husband and marriage, motherhood, divorce, boyfriends, the lonely years, the painfulness of her condition, and eventually reconciliation and resolution.

 

During the play Carolann often refers to a character called Shelly. Who Shelly is doesn’t become clear until the end of the play, but she is certainly somebody Carolann knows extremely well and feels very close to. Shelly’s name and the snippets of sung music lines throughout the play act similarly to motifs, repeated word and musical phrases that contribute to Carolann’s moods. For example, the sung lines, “finding yourself,” “I don’t know why,” “being put down,” are delivered when we learn from Carolann that her husband has had an affair with another woman, Tracy. “Don’t know me,” and “sexy bitch,” are other phrases that are heard again.

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This play demands a great deal of an actress in terms of physicality, mime and vocal range, and Paula David doesn’t disappoint. Her miming of intercourse with Jacob is strongly physical but is not obscene. At other times she throws herself on the floor with complete abandonment as when she trips on the dance floor and lands on a male figure, very much enjoying the proximity of his maleness. We meet a number of different characters on Carolann’s journey and Paula David succeeds in making them very real.

Against this backdrop of sex, song, laughter, physical action, there are quieter moment, times when Carolann is more reflective and when we learn more of her inner thoughts. Here she breaks the fourth wall and directs her observations to the audience. She manages to do this in a way that is conspiratorial, there is no sharp break between her engagements with other characters and chats with the audience. During these moments the audience get insights into her vulnerability.

The final encounter in this monologue is Carolann’s exchange with her daughter Tanya, whom she thinks may be gay. She thinks this because of their inability to easily communicate with each other. Realisation occurs when Tanya hands Carolann a bunch of flowers. The audience learn that Tanya is very supportive of her mother during anniversaries of a very sad event in Carolann’s life. Tanya is not gay; she has a boyfriend but can never find an occasion to tell her mother about him. The play ends on a strong note of hope and this is symbolised by Carolann and Tanya making pancakes together.

I wish Paula David the very best of luck with Blood, Sweat and Vaginas. It is a beautifully, constructed play, works on many different levels and is performed by a multi-talented actor. It deserves a good audience.

Celia Bard
July 2019

Photography  by Arnhel de Serra; image by Mark Taylor

From → Drama, Fringe, Reviews

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