Thursday, May 30

Vagina Cake – Hope Mill Theatre

Making friends at university can be a risky business as four friends have found out as they run round the stage pandering to the unreasonable demands of an unseen ‘The Duchess’.  

In between Laura Harper’s warm, funny but very perceptive new work unpeels the power and complexity of female friendships as Fraggle, Dipsy, Mumps and Mary migrate from their relatively carefree twenties into the much choppier waters of their thirties.

Harper has based Vagina Cake on extensive chats with women of different generations, and the regular gales of laughter from the mainly female audience proved she has nailed the inevitable changes in friendships that start when you are essentially still a big child.

The first half centres around a disastrous wedding sketching out each of the women’s roles in the gang and then into a girl’s night out that The Duchess manages to ruin from her sickbed. Along the way there are plenty of laughs, including a brilliant gag involving Adele and a smart speaker that sparked a roar of laughter, and a touching dance routine as the four go back to their carefree college days.

Harper cleverly moves the cast on and off stage revealing the unspoken internal alliances all friendship groups have as the women share their deepest insecurities and secrets, which inevitably come out in often brutal home truths

The second half is a daker affair as the women hit their thirties, although there is a hilarious misunderstanding over an order for a ‘designer cake’ at a party for The Duchess’ kid that almost sends poor Dipsy over the edge, and a divorce party where some long held resentments threaten their friendship. But all rooted in truth as one woman shouted ‘go girl’ as Mumps tries to make sense of a one night stand as her perfect marriage falling apart round her ears.

Actors always talk about the writing being so important and four gifted comic actors run riot with some great source material. Laura Littlewood’s brittle career woman Dipsy is comedy gold with plenty of well-timed side glances, Francesca Kingdon skilfully peels back the layers of self-appointed gang leader Mumps, Jade Golding subtly traces Fraggle’s acceptance that she is not like the others but wants to be ‘less of a dick’ and Victoria Oxley regularly steals scenes as the naïve ‘Virgin’ Mary who is the group’s surrogate mum.

But all of them are equally at home in the dramatic moments as the gang wrestle with infertility, some poor relationship choices, sperm donation, the pressures of conforming to society’s ideal version of what a woman should be, the realities of motherhood and what to do when someone you met when you were 18 turns out to be a monumental dickhead.

This is one of those shows that leaves you with a smile on your face, but there is enough truth in the writing to make you think about the incredible pressures women face in an incredibly complex world with only your friends to guide you.

Vagina Cake with this cast deserves a national tour as wherever it plays it will strike a chord, and it could be one of those shows that becomes a staple of the touring circuit.

Vagina Cake is at Manchester’s Hope Mill until Saturday April 2nd. To book

Reviewer: Paul Clarke

Reviewed: 29th March 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★