High Steaks

New Diorama Theatre, London

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ELOINA Credit: Matjaž Rušt
ELOINA Credit: Claire Haigh
ELOINA & Annie (ELOINA’s Mum) Credit: Claire Haigh
ELOINA Credit: Julia Testa

A teacher on a TES web site offering resources for personal, social and health education in schools describes asking her students what a vulva was. She tells us that, “one said it was her dad’s car he drives and the others thought it was something used to kill someone in Cluedo.”

More alarming than the student's lack of knowledge about their bodies are the reports mentioned in the play High Steaks of increasing numbers of females seeking labiaplasty, which is a surgical procedure to the labia, mostly for cosmetic reasons.

The performance artist Eloina describes at age ten being horrified by her labia and willing to have surgery. It wasn't helped later that the first man she “slept with” made negative comments about them.

In a sensitive, gently amusing, mostly one-woman show, with short extract voice-overs from women she has interviewed, along with her mum Annie popping onto the stage at one point, Eloina encourages a more positive, thoughtful approach to the vulva.

We first meet her poking her head out from between the back curtains, enquiring if we have come for the concert. When the audience says yes, she enters the stage with a huge accordion hanging from her neck covering most of her body, because “someone had said it would be rude to start the show completely naked.”

After the rhythms of a quick playful tune, she hands the accordion to someone on the front row to look after, revealing herself naked apart from a small bush of green herbs and steaks hanging over the area of her pubic hair. There are also slices of steak hanging from above the stage at four corners of the performance space. During the show, she will hammer the steak and cook it along with the herbs.

Eloina speaks directly to the audience, and there is a good bit of voluntary audience participation. They are asked what they call the labia. She shocks many by telling us that in Slovenia, they are called the “shameful lips”.

Later in the show when she is sitting completely naked with legs apart on a surgical table introducing us to various parts of the female anatomy, she invites a volunteer to draw her labia.

Eloina points to the way the labia is most of the time simply a private matter with the woman not feeling she can talk to anyone else about her vulva. Women in voice-overs talk about years of “shame”, “self-disgust” and the social expectations not being helped by TV programmes such as Embarrassing Bodies making them feel awkward about talking to anyone about the subject.

In addition, there is the way pornography and social media can digitally alter images to a standard form despite the variation in size and shape among women generally.

Towards the end of the performance, she stands naked in a joyful pose with her arms raised above her head, her hands squeezing grapes. She declares she loves her labia and that we should encourage a safe, more positive approach to them.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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