Humour thrives on the uncomfortable, but rarely more purposefully than in Hole, Dorset-based artist-performer Holly Spillar’s new show at Lighthouse Poole on Saturday 4 March.
Holly, who delivers the Young Writers programme at Lighthouse, is a charming young woman whose only want in life is to sing songs about vaginas and the NHS, which is how this comedy with original music, described as ‘Kate Bush colliding with Tim Minchin at full force’, came to be. Hole, you see, addresses issues surrounding vaginismus, a commonplace – but rarely talked about – psychosomatic condition that makes penetrative sex painful if not impossible.
It’s clearly not the most obvious subject for a comedy, but it’s all too real and all too distressing for those who live with it.
“I’ve spoken about it with so many people and for such a long time that I’ve lost a lot of the self-consciousness around it,” Holly explains. “But I found that when speaking about it in the show as me I felt too vulnerable, so I created this character called Hole to tell my vaginismus story.”
Having partly developed the one-woman show at Lighthouse last year  as part of the Sanctuary artist residency, Holly performed Hole as a work-in-progress at venues including Camden People’s Theatre and Black Cherry in Boscombe, but is looking forward to coming back to Lighthouse to present the full show.
“Lighthouse has been invaluable in all of this, and the Sanctuary application process was really straightforward. I’m a working class artist living at home with my mum in her rented flat. I have an amp and work with a looper pedal so things get quite loud, and with the language I use… well, I have to respect my neighbours.
“So, Sanctuary meant I could be loud, say what I like and try things – without it I wouldn’t have been able to develop the show in my own space.
“It is explicit, but Hole is a show that’s relatable for anyone of any gender who ever had an awkward sexual experience. I think I say vagina so frequently that people work out where they are pretty quickly – those who are not on board realise they’re in for an awkward time and the rest are in for an hour of fashionable feminist frenzy.”
After years of unexplained discomfort, Holly was diagnosed at 19 and has since undergone therapy and treatment to reach a point where the condition no longer impinges on her life in the way it once did.
“There’s no easy cure, but you can heal from it. It’s different for everybody and can take time, but yes, you could read it as a happy ending.
“I’ve met and been in touch with a lot of people who have vaginismus and many of them have very similar stories – from being told they were lying, or there’s no such thing, to hearing there’s nothing that can be done. I’ve met audience members in their 70s and while they may be shocked by the delivery it’s clear it’s nothing new – people with vaginas have always been affected by this and there’s always been an element of misogyny in health services, but I think attitudes are very slowly changing and I hope this is a purposeful show.”
And what’s next?
“I’d love to take Hole on tour and maybe do the Edinburgh Fringe, but for the next show, I’m not sure yet. If there was another subject that I could make a show about that was deeply personal then I would, absolutely.”