IN a week when the country is marking the 100th anniversary of when women first got the vote, how timely it is to see the return of The Vagina Monologues at Essex University.

For more than a decade, The Vagina Monologues has given voice to experiences and feelings not previously exposed in public, bringing a deeper understanding to the conversation around ending violence against women and girls.

The award-winning play is based on V-Day Founder/ playwright Eve Ensler’s interviews with more than 200 women and with humour and grace, the piece celebrates women’s sexuality and strength.

Last year Essex University staff, faculty members and students put on their own version to rapturous acclaim and so thanks to the university’s student support service, Residence Life, another production is taking place this year.

Vicky Beckwith, who is a project officer with Residence Life, took part last year.

She says: “It completely sold out and we had an excellent response from both men and women. Seeing students and staff come together to make an impact was very pleasing, so it was a fairly natural thing to do it again.”

Lauren Searle, who is an administrator for the Essex Business School, went to see the show last year and was so impressed decided to volunteer this time around.

“It wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be,” she adds. “I suppose I thought it would be a lot of drama students but it was so diverse and passionate, and also really funny.

“I’m not a particularly confident person so it took a lot for me to volunteer but I believe so strongly in this issue, and I could see the taking part was actually a lot of fun, I decided to have a go.”

As well as Votes for Women, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the play, the core ethos of which is to agitate change and to end violence against all women and girls.

“That’s cisgender, transgender or gender non-conforming,” Vicky continues, “and so all proceeds from the performances will go towards our local rape crisis centre, CARA, who the university has been forging ever stronger links with over the years.

“CARA have delivered some excellent training to our staff, and the university now has specialist support workers across the sites, who know how to respond to disclosures of sexual violence.

“What I love about this production is that it crosses the different levels within the university. It’s a real ensemble piece with academics rubbing shoulders with staff and students. It’s a really lovely thing to be involved with.”

As well as The Vagina Monologues, the Lakeside Theatre will also play host to a new play by critically acclaimed actor and writer, Manjeet Mann, which deals with one woman’s struggle to carve her own path in a family of six women.

A Dangerous Woman is Manjeet’s second show following her groundbreaking debut, Flying Solo.

“I began acting,” she tells, “but then I started to get a bit bored with the work. I wanted to break out of all those stereotypes so I wrote this show called Flying Solo and did a little tour, and on the back of that, I got commissioned to write other pieces, including a novel for Penguin.

“It was a semi autobiographical piece triggered after my father passed away, which essentially tells the story of a woman who loses it while running a marathon.

“If I had had the guts, Flying Solo would have been the show that A Dangerous Woman became. At first it was going to be four different women all of which were dangerous in their own way, but mirroring my own life. But then the director said ‘we keep on going back to your life and actually that’s far more interesting’ and so that’s what we did.”

Based on Manjeet Mann’s own experience growing up in the west Midlands, this bold and unapologetic new play explores what happens when you dare to challenge conformity, and make your voice heard.

Manjeet adds: “It’s about women and the violence women can inflict on one another. It looks at how women deal with the choices they make as girls growing up in a house and how they navigate and deal with their choices into adulthood.

“So far I have been so overwhelmed by the audience response to this play and have been told time and time again that it is an important, universal story that needs to be shared.”

Manjeet has worked extensively on stage, screen and radio and is currently commissioned by The Birmingham Repertory Theatre to write a new play. She is also on the inaugural WriteNow mentor program run by Penguin-Random House, where she is writing her first novel and last year Manjeet spent some time as an associate artist at The Birmingham Rep as part of the Foundry Programme.

“After Flying Solo,” she says, “it all went a little crazy for me, which obviously was a great thing to happen. It’s calmed down a little with A Dangerous Woman, which I’ve really enjoyed doing.

“At first it was very scary because it was a more personal than Flying Solo and I was also doing it in the dark, literally. My director insisted we did it with the lights down but I said I much preferred it when I could see the audience and tell them my story directly, so thankfully when we do it now the house lights are always up.

The Vagina Monologues runs at the Lakeside Theatre at Essex University, on Friday and Saturday, February 16 and 17, at 8pm, while Manjeet Mann’s A Dangerous Woman is at the theatre next Thursday, February 15, at 7.30pm.

Tickets for both shows are £13, £9 for concessions, and £6 for students in advance, and £2 more if bought on the door. For more info go on-line at or call 01206 873261.