When Caprice and Meera get together

February 18, 2010

How did a play about gynaecology, rape and genital mutilation become a worldwide smash hit? Karen Bartlett on the rise of a phenomenon and the unique pulling power of its originator

Eve Ensler stands on stage, a tiny figure in the huge arena that is Madison Square Garden, usually home to America’s biggest and most masculine sporting triumphs. It is February 2001 and she has just finished a benefit performance of her play The Vagina Monologues. Around her, stacked to the roof, are 18,000 people, mostly women. Taking part that night are Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Isabella Rossellini and Gloria Steinem.

The Vagina Monologues has run its usual course. Everyone has laughed at the funny anecdotes about trips to the gynaecologist and about what, if your vagina got dressed, it might wear. Most have been shocked at the monologue about female genital mutilation; some cried at the parts about … [more]


Keep hold of the talking stick

February 18, 2010

Observations on debates

Everybody wants to talk. If Tony Blair’s “Big Conversation” and the constant chatter on the London think-tank lecture circuit aren’t enough, you can now attend the “Coffee House Challenge”, organised by Starbucks and the Royal Society of Arts.

The idea – for informal discussions over lattes – first percolated across the Atlantic as the brainchild of Vicki Robin, a peace-nik author, songwriter and advocate of sustainable living. After 9/11, she decided that Americans needed somewhere quiet to talk. The “conversation cafe” quickly spread across North America, and the weekly topics have included everything from terrorism and gay marriage to national identity.

The idea has been around the London scene for a while. The New Economics Foundation and Charter 88 once tried a “democracy cafe”. But perhaps the RSA, i… [more]


A good citizen is no longer good enough

February 18, 2010

D-Day for British politics – If you’re too apathetic to vote on Thursday, don’t worry. You can always join David Blunkett’s new scheme to learn active citizenship. Karen Bartlett reports
What would you get from a room containing a refugee, an ex-miner and a civil servant? Not the start of a popular British film, even though the room is in Sheffield and the ex-miner does say: “I’m a working-class lad who goes to the ballet. I would never have done that if I’d still been down the pit.” Like the stars of Billy Elliot and The Full Monty, the people in this room have retrained themselves to get a grip on their lost communities and make the best of bad circumstances, but without the singing, the dancing or the stripping.

In horrible government jargon, they are “active” citizens and, as of last month, the pioneers of a Home Office pilot project to teach others t… [more]


Rise and fall of a doughnut

February 18, 2010

Andrew Marr had one, but, unlike Rosie O’Donnell, didn’t enjoy it. Cynthia Nixon and Renee Zellweger both had theirs. So did the G8 leaders at this year’s summit on Sea Island, Georgia. In London, you are nobody now unless you are leaving Knightsbridge with the fashionably retro, green-and-white box in the back of your 4×4. Friendships are warmer. Life is tooth-achingly sweet. You have just had your first Krispy Kreme moment.

The Krispy Kreme doughnut, a relatively cheap and surprisingly humble-looking US import, first blipped on to the British radar when it was immortalised in Sex and the City. Soon after that, the doughnut became available at an outlet in Harrods. Like Starbucks, it seemed the chain was culturally and nutritionally here to stay. New outlets came to Canary Wharf and, less glamorously, to Enfield and Watford. A further 26 stores were on the drawing board, and footballers’ wives … [more]



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