Published in The Times, Friday May 8 2015
Cora Bissett, the director of this new verbatim piece, has never flinched from contentious subjects. Her previous work includes Roadkill, an uncompromising look at the sex trade, while the musical Glasgow Girls was based on the true tale of seven girls who stood up to the UK immigration system when a friend was threatened with deportation.
Rites, written in collaboration with Yusra Warsama, the Manchester-based theatre practitioner, explores female genital mutilation (FGM) via a collage of voices created from interviews with people across the UK with experience of the practice.
Pic: Sally Jubb Photography
Raising awareness about FGM and exploring attempts to police it in the UK may be the motivation for staging the piece, but the wider intention is to highlight how tightly bound up discussion about the issue is with questions of race and gender politics, immigration and multiculturalism.
The 90-minute show, co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and Contact, doesn’t pull its punches. We hear from a woman who didn’t realise the full implications of what had been done to her as a child until she was pregnant with her second baby.
We meet a father, originally from Yemen, worried that his daughters will have to endure the ritual when he returns with them to the Middle East. A guilt-ridden female “cutter” explains how she learnt and later renounced the practice.
What’s refreshing is that, while the show is documentary in form, Bissett and Warsama resist sledgehammering their audience. The central issue is humanised by the recurring story of Fara (an engaging performance by Paida Mutonono), a Gambian student in Scotland who risks alienating her family and community when she becomes a vocal campaigner against FGM.
The production is by no means perfect. Some of the video imagery projected on to screens at the side of the stage is a little heavy-handed, including the footage of razor blades cutting through petals, and there’s an ill-judged rendition of a Maya Angelou poem at the end.
Yet it’s an undeniably powerful piece of reality theatre that tackles the complexities of its subject head-on and is sensitively performed by the five-strong cast.
Box office: 0141 552 4267, to May 9; Contact, Manchester, May 12-14; Tobacco Factory, Bristol, May 19-23; Traverse, Edinburgh, May 26-30, nationaltheatrescotland.com