The Good Body

Wed 22nd – Fri 24th February 2012


Yara Rodrigues Fowler

at 10:22 on 23rd Feb 2012



Fans of Eve Ensler’s the ‘Vagina Monologues’ will find this production of ‘The Good Body’ disappointing. It fails at almost every opportunity to engage beyond a predictable and superficial level with either the script or audience. Its themes are potentially controversial, essentially personal - it radically critiques the embarrassingly endemic problem of the modern Western woman and her body. This play should be absolutely fascinating and uncomfortably close to the bone. This production was at best watchable and fleetingly touching; at worst at worst it was gratingly laboured and unfortunately reminiscent of the kind of shrill and glib self-help books that Bridget Jones would keep on her shelf.

Eve herself is a consistent presence throughout the play, which takes the form of a series of monologues or conversations with women about their respective relationships with their bodies, punctuated by Eve’s own relationship with her stomach - that is to say, her relationship with bread, ice-cream, her mother and her father. Eve, being both narrator and writer is an interesting dramatic set up: I imagine that she might serve as a bridge between characters and audience, lending narratorial progression to the play, which is essentially composite of miniature story-lines. Sutton’s acting is limited to monotone. Eve is a menopausal woman who lived through, and in her own way wrote, the women’s movement, to see her discuss her struggle with the Western ideal of beauty should be immensely humbling; instead she comes across as immature and solipsistic. Watching her narrate felt like reading the Cosmo articles that she ostensibly critises.

Among the other cast members there were a some scenes of quality acting. The best scene - which achieved, I think, the intended effect, where in the blackout the audience sat contemplative in the wake of the character’s experience - was Emma D’Arcy’s Nina. Nina is an Italian woman who has a sexual relationship with her step-father, and consequently develops an intense revulsion for her breasts. Another touching monologue was Fisher-Jones’ Carol, a Jewish woman who gets vagina ‘tightening’ surgery in order to please her husband, in the hope that he will find some time to attend to her needs in the bedroom. Fisher-Jones portrays a naturalistic naivety that is both funny and tragic; like D’arcy she manages to touch the highly personal and nuanced essence of the play.

Ruth Munglani and Katie Ebner-Landy give more mixed performances. Munglani successfully communicating the spectral ‘spread’ of fat that haunted her until her mother’s death. Ebner-Landy’s short but sweet scene as a nipple piercing ‘dyke’ balancing comic with saucy adeptly, although once again her interaction with Eve is unconvincing. Eve’s position, both physically and dramatically, during the other actors’ monologues was in fact often uncertain and distracting. In this aspect the direction could have been more assertive.

Perhaps the most disappointing scene of the play was toward its end, when Munglani as the African woman Leah, attempts to explain to Eve that her body is not un-beautiful because it is unlike other women’s (‘skinny bitches’) bodies, making the comparison of the body to a tree. This performance thoroughly misses the point, by projecting an uncertain tone that sounds suspiciously mocking - Leah speaks in a spacey, silly tone that undermines the centrality of the scene to the play: it is the key to Eve’s - woman’s - acceptance of her body, and is instead made ridiculous.

This play has a few very good moments, but they are in the minority. It is in the most part an unimaginative exploration of tired female self-hatred and angst, which fails to delve into the Freudian maternal/paternal and Marxist social/capitalist reasons for the Western phenomenon of the body-hating feminist.


Nathalie Wright

at 15:49 on 23rd Feb 2012



Like it’s older and more famous sister, “The Vagina Monologues”, Eve Ensler’s play “The Good Body” deals with the complex relationship between women’s bodies and society through a series of monologues told by a disparate range of women. This production used a versatile cast to tell these women’s stories, but it was hard not to be disappointed by the woman-as-passive-victim paradigm presented which is something I thought the play would have undermined.

In a pique of self-hatred, one woman lying supinely on an operating table relates how sorry she felt for her Frankentseinian plastic-surgeon lover when, whilst carrying out yet another cosmetic operation upon her, her own heart stopped beating. That after having technically (albeit temporarily) died, the woman can only think of the stress endured by her boyfriend, should have been the climax to a deeply poignant monologue which brings together so many of the issues regarding body image and feminism today: the powerful man as prescriber/objectifier of the female form, consumerism, class oppressions and so on. More importantly however, Eve Ensler’s provocative script should have also been translated in a way which was immediately shocking and moving: the audience should be affected viscerally by the emotional content, and reappraised the nature of the female body in modern society, second. Unfortunately, much of the acting in the play was too self-consciously theatrical for much empathy to be possible. This was especially evident in Lorna Sutton’s portrayal of Eve herself. Although there were some good moments and an improvement after a shaky start, her monologues lacked dramatic shape; instead many lines were inhibited by a false, I’m-on-stage, emphasis which meant they rang false. Eve’s script is full of great one-liners (“fat girls always swallow”) and bitingly funny moments, yet these often fell flat, eliciting only occasional titters from the audience.

That being said, there was undoubtedly a lot of talent on stage and there were some genuinely touching moments. Deserving of a special mention is Emma D’Arcy for her subtle portrayal of a young Italian, Nina, who is so ashamed of her breasts, which stop her from “running so fast” and spell the end of innocence and the beginning of abuse by her step-father, that she has them removed. There was real pathos in this performance. Similarly, Carol, a middle-aged woman who tells of her vagina-tightening surgery and the relationship with her much older husband was played excellently by Hannah Fischer-Jones. Her monologue worked so well because she managed to draw attention to what is not explicitly said, but implied about the real reasons for her character getting surgery and the short scene functioned like a mini play, with a definite climax. Another success was the “Botox” scene in which all actors on stage together spoke with biting sarcasm about the impossible pressures put on women to look and act a certain way. The montage of different accusatory voices was quite intimidating, as it should have been, and really came across as coming from a natural emotion, not a staged conception of what emotion should be like.

The Botox scene also added a sense of cohesiveness to what otherwise are disparate monologues. Eve, being the constant throughout the play, should have been the linchpin, but awkward directorial decisions to have her appearing sometimes watching the other monologues and sometimes off stage lacked consistency. The music in-between scenes didn’t seem to have any specific relevance and perhaps could have helped with this.

As part of Eve’s exploration of body image, she travels round the world and engages with different cultures’ perceptions of female beauty. In one particularly cringey scene, she is “enlightened” by a Massai tribeswoman in what seems an almost post-colonial parody. Complete with some kind of foreign, wistful sounding, slightly broken English, Leah tells Eve in a slap-you-in-the-face-it’s-so-cliché metaphor, that no one cares if trees look different from one another, so why should we judge women in the same way? It is a valid point, but its presentation in the script seems old fashioned and preachy, although the play was only written in 2004. The play’s end too seemed to present a miraculous turn around in which the actors, seemingly representing womankind, learn to appreciate their “good bodies” yet this seems false after the presentation of the psychological, economic and cultural complexities of the issue.

Overall then, the production had some good moments and great acting, but in general seemed a stale survey of the subject matter and lacked a real, visceral emotional connection with the content which its sister play, “The Vagina Monologues” (which was performed in Oxford this term), definitely had. Unfortunately this play suffers by comparison.



Julia Skellett; 23rd Feb 2012; 19:58:27

This play was performed by amateurs in their scarce spare time for charity. The critique "has a few very good moments" and "suffers by comparison" with the time and effort put in by the volunteers. I thank the whole production team for a wonderful evening and wish them well for the future.

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