The Virgin Party

Drama Studio, University of Auckland, Auckland

10/03/2009 - 14/03/2009

Auckland Fringe 2009

Production Details


Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Victoria. Mary Magdelene. The Virgin Mary. Athena. Aphrodite.

The Virgins and Whores of our history embark together on a dazzling and shocking exploration of virginity.

A captivating new original theatre piece by Claire Ahuhiri that goes beyond sexuality and physicality, beyond reality and into the dark.

Contains offensive language.

Auckland University Drama Studio (14a Symonds St, Level 1, Auckland Central)
Tuesday 10th – Saturday 14th March
8:00pm – 9:15pm
Tickets: $10
Tickets available through

The Auckland Fringe runs from 27th February to 22nd March 2009.
For more Auckland Fringe information go to

Emilia/Emily: Kristina Hard
Queen Elizabeth: Melissa Fergusson
Virgin Mary: Sarah Bridge
Fatima: Elise McDowell
Athena: Erin Bell
Queen Victoria: Rhiann Munro
Mary Magdalene: Sacha Wade
Rizzo: Alishia Henry
Aphrodite: Sophia Panayiodou
Guiseppe/Ibsen: Nick Gray
Joseph/Father/Prince: Dan Rivers
Priest/Don Juan/Aristophanes: Michael Bugbee

Producer: James Wenley
Lighting Design: Claire Ahuriri
Publicity: Kristina Hard
Lighting/Sound Operator: Ashley Milne

Intense discussion about women's roles and perceptions

Review by James Amos 11th Mar 2009

We enter the Uni drama studio, the walls defaced, covered in graffiti with rude and lewd comments about STDs, various terms for sex, insults back and forth and pictures of peni (is it peni or penises ?) 

The set design and staging have a raw feel about them, somehow student-esque.

With a name like virgin party I am expecting a comedy. I’m thinking of the sexual energy of university orientation, the toga parties on the quad – consisting of four lone guys etc (there’s a lot of potential there).

Anyway, it turns out to be a fairly judicious (yet fun and very thought provoking) look at women’s roles and stereotypes throughout history and boy, there’s a lot to cover!

The cast are lounging about and at first it seems that the female characters are all flirting with the males, who are "acting" as though they enjoy it. Then I realise there is another group of women sitting to the other side looking annoyed (I glance at them for a moment, then back to the fun).

This sets up the framework for the entire play: a battle between "virgins" and "whores". The term whore is defined, by the virgins’ ringleader Queen Elizabeth (the first), as anyone without a hymen. It’s at this point that I have to mention the costuming. On the whole fantastic, how ever I do feel that Elizabeth’s costume makes her look more like Ronald McDonald than the ruler of an empire.

I realise that it may be historically accurate but within the theatre context it makes it so hard to see her. Perhaps this is on purpose, to create a distance between us – to see her as almost inhuman. If so, the performance style needs to compensate for this because as far as the script is concerned we are seeing Liz’s personal side with more naturalistic dialogue. In a nutshell, I would like to see the face paint gone.

The play’s writer, Claire Ahuriri, has made a brave decision to direct the show herself. I really wish she had got a director to do this for her (I apologise if this sounds cruel but its from the heart).

The play itself is rather nice, reminding me of one of the greats, Carol Churchhill’s Top Girls, in a good way.  Unfortunately its style is never quite realised. The dialogue, as played on opening night, has holes you could drive a bus through and the scene changes are slow and clunky. There are often extended moments of silence where one imagines one of the actors must have forgotten their lines only to realise that the scene is ended, which becomes clear when the serenity is disturbed by the shuffling of actors to new positions on-stage.

To be fair this is opening night and I would certainly hope to see this improve with tighter cueing and ideally some slicker ways of getting from one scene to another (the actors don’t always have to move from one physical location to another in order to indicate a scene change and actors that aren’t in use don’t necessarily have to be removed from the stage).

Also I feel that the actors are a little unsure whether they should be talking to themselves, each other, the audience, God or an off-stage character. The dialogue (as it is played) has no urgency, the stakes are too low. It seems that the words are lines off a page rather than thoughts and emotions that the characters have a need to communicate.

This is all the directors responsibility and I can fully appreciate that the thrill of hearing words you’ve written could distract one from that task – made even harder when dealing with clearly inexperienced actors and a brand spanking new script.

On a basic level the volume is too low particularly from Fatima (Elise Mcdowell) who I cannot comprehend at all to start with. However Aphrodite (Sophia Panayiodou) has a lovely clear warm voice. Strangely this tendency is reflected through the rest of the "whores" in general.

At about the half way mark things crank up a bit as the actors warm up. Athena’s (Erin Bell’s) comic moments nearer the end are a real treat and as for the lads, I think they do a fine job, very clear and straightforward as their roles dictate.

This play is like an enjoyable history lesson about women and sex. Interestingly, as one of the Marys points out, even defining your self as a virgin is to define yourself sexually, and being such it was always going to be largely about religion also.

Being a fairly un-religious type of chap myself, much of the discussion and inner turmoil feels to me rather like watching an argument on another planet, but to be fair, whether I want to believe it or not, much of our society today is still based on religious conventions of the past.

I would recommend that women go and see this play together and discuss it after wards. I would recommend that men go and see this play also, but not by yourself (or with any other men), but with a woman you trust, who can explain it all afterwards from her perspective.

Now I always thought Joseph was a pretty good bloke for agreeing to take care of god’s bastard son, but when Mary turns around and rejects him that has me a little hurt! Then my eyes are opened! For as Mary says, "Who ever said I wanted to get married?" Thanks Claire! You make me see my own prejudice and it’s challenges like this one, as well as the very interesting historical tid-bits, that make this show worth the entrance fee.

Another great example is the discussion between the virgins and whores on the merits of female circumcision. When Fatima reveals that only women are involved in the process and that it gives them freedom from lust, I’m thinking "Holy Shit! What planet am I on ?!?"

Ultimately the question of the play becomes how can women begin to define themselves in ways that are not primarily sexual? An Albert Einstein quote comes to mind: "We cannot solve today’s problems using the mindset that created them."

The final speech given by the play’s protagonist Emily (Kristina Hard – who does a lovely job) is rather touching and brazenly didactic but, for my money, on the button. 

However it came about 20 minutes later than I’d like it. I think there is some real gold in there and the show has some great moments – in particular, the poetic sequences when the girls all became a chorus – but the play could be easily cut by 20 minutes without loosing anything important.

In summary, if you want a really good intense discussion about women’s roles / perceptions in society then go and see this play. If you want to be entertained with great acting and a sweet story, go see Ruby Tuesday, 6:30pm at the Basement. If you want it all (like me) you’ll make it a double feature and see both!


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