The Worcester Literary Festival is a glorious alchemy of the arts which tonight found its expression in the debut performance of the Vaginellas in a typically bold promotion. No-one knew who the Vaginellas were, how many of them there were, what their material was going to comprise, or what their manifesto was. But curiosity is a powerful thing, and a good sized crowd turned out to find out at a venue which is rapidly becoming the cultural epicentre of the town.
An open mic section preceded the Vaginellas sets which were divided into two halves. Katy Wareham Morris was confident, strident, and read a rather good poem in the style of the American Beat poets, followed by Jodie Lea Ford who found her voice with Tits.
I should declare a professional poetic relationship with Amy Rainbow before declaring also that she was on fabulous form. The C Word is clever, amusing and invariably catches the audience out with its last line volta. Yet it was her serious date rape poem which stood out for me. Her customary chiming rhyme beguilingly mirrors the specious seduction before the event. It is didactic, but not hectoring. It reaches out to a male audience, but is uncompromising in its message . It is very good. Although Myfanwy Fox is a regular performer on the local circuit, I never tire of hearing her. Forty Love and OAP sparkled. Like Victoria Wood she has the ability to savour the risqué whilst making it all seem fine because it is done with such poise.
I always enjoy hearing new performers .Delphine de Noire was hitherto unknown to me, but made quite an impression. With her jet black hair, flowing black dress, bright red lipstick, and pronounced eye make- up, she clearly revels in an image that has something about the night swirling around her. She could easily have been transported from Andy Warhol’s Factory circa 1969, a world inhabited by the likes of Candy Darling, Nico , Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. So I was wholly unsurprised when her first poem was entitled , Morphine Dream, then followed by Bathsheba. Dark, atmospheric and mysterious it was as if Jim Morrison and Grace Slick had been re-incarnated for a trippy poetic journey. I have no idea what much of it was about – but I loved it.
Another pleasure of reviewing is watching performers blossom. When I first met Sarah Tamar a couple of years ago her talent was obvious, but she was just making her early tentative steps onto the circuit. Now she co-hosts Mouth and music with assurance and authority, qualities which she brought to her performance, along with some memorable lines. She described the end game of a failed relationship as leaving “Love gasping like a dying fish” and the sex as, “ star-crossed permafrost”. Ouch!
Which brings me to the main event, the Vaginellas, whom I can now reveal comprise Jenny Hope, Ruth Stacey, Sarah James and, all the way from Salford, Manchester, Jo Langton. Their material? A joyous concoction of fun, feminism, sauce and seriousness. The writing was tight and engaging. No subject, weighty or risqué, was out of bounds, but it was always delivered with spades of self-deprecating humour or conviction, depending upon the subject.
Ruth Stacey drew upon Germaine Greer’s celebration, and reclaiming, of the word “cunt” in a way that was both a delight, and a demonstration of the power it still holds. Sarah James celebrated men’s testicles, bemoaning their unavailability in supermarket fruit sections, leaving me both smiling, and sitting rather uneasily! The phenomena of men “enjoying” ladies lingerie is well documented, the reverse less so. Jo Langton’ s homage to the pleasures of wearing men’s boxer shorts was therefore an unexpected, and particular, delight. The Vaginellas rotated and swapped performance with an ease , confidence, and efficiency which was a tribute to their professionalism bearing in mind this was their first outing. That rotation allowed for moods and topics to be switched quickly, and Jenny Hopes powerful protest against female circumcision, Cutting the Rose, was no less resonant and impactful than the good humour which was never far away.
The Vaginellas performance was a triumph and are now a second force for women’s ensemble poetry in the region with the Decadent Divas having first blazed the trail. What I found exciting was that they are approaching the genre from a different place, the Decadent Divas are gossiping in the parlour, the Vaginellas are in the bedroom! How I would love to see a bill with both groups performing.
Rarely have I attended an evening with such a positive reaction from both audience, and performers, alike. As the show was an unknown quantity, there were few men in the audience, those who were unsure missed a real treat. The Vaginellas material is all-embracing, inviting women, and men, to laugh, and reflect , with them. Why should women have all the fun to themselves ?
The Worcester Literary Festival continues until Sunday 24/6/12
Gary Longden 22/6/12
Photograph taken by Jodie Lea Ford and used with kind permission from Sarah James