Assembly Rooms, George Street, Edinburgh
Vaginismus. It’s not an obvious topic for a play. But that’s exactly the point of Isley Lynn’s Skin a Cat: despite affecting an estimated 1 in 200 women, vaginismus is rarely talked about. In an age where we can casually acknowledge scores of lovers, where we can – at last – be open about our sexual orientation and gender identity, vaginismus is one of the last remaining taboos.
So what is it? In short, vaginismus is an involuntary contraction of the muscles around the opening of the vagina, which makes sexual intercourse painful or impossible. And, in Alana (Lydia Larson)’s case, as she gets into bed with a boy at a party, this results in a panic attack that leaves her short of oxygen and fitting. Not the most auspicious way to start off her sex life.
Despite – and sometimes because of – the awkwardness of the subject matter, this is a very funny piece, engagingly performed by a trio of actors. Lydia Larson, in the central role, is mesmerising, actually: uneasy and vulnerable, yet lively and confident; clever and articulate, but unable to give voice to her deepest concern. This is a nuanced performance, as naked and raw as the flesh-coloured costume that leaves her secrets exposed. It’s impossible not to care.
Larson is joined on stage by Joe Eyre and Libby Rodliffe, who play all of the supporting roles: Alana’s boyfriends and lovers; her mother, friends – and gynaecologist. They slip effortlessly between characters, bringing Alana’s sexual odyssey to life, adding light to the shade and ensuring this piece is entertaining as well as enlightening.
Blythe Stewart’s direction works well. The bed looms large, centre stage throughout – an unavoidable presence marking Alana’s every experience or encounter. Rodliffe and Eyre are positioned either side of it, subtle shadows of angel/devil emerging as they speak through microphones. The sex scenes – and there are a lot of them – are nicely done, excruciating for Alana, of course, but not for the audience: graphic but never gratuitous.
This is an interesting, intimate depiction of an important subject, and definitely worth taking the time to see.