Promotional image for Rites, which tours Scotland and England this month. Image via contactmcr.com
Promotional image for Rites, which tours Scotland and England this month. Image via contactmcr.com

Created by Cora Bissett and Yusra Warsama
Contact and The National Theatre of Scotland
Contact Theatre
Tuesday 12th-Thursday 14th May 2015

Exploring the topic of FGM (female genital mutilation) in a theatrical context was never going to make for an easy playgoing experience. This hard-hitting piece of verbatim theatre uses the real words of women who have experienced FGM, as well as a range of others, from policymakers and campaigners to teenaged Muslim boys.

At 90 minutes without an interval, the play’s bombardment of testimony after testimony only reinforces the prominence of FGM in the UK. With 60,000 girls and young women potentially affected, it’s a topic that must be talked about, and this is an unflinching treatment which, as well as providing us with a wide range of viewpoints, also follows one character as she negotiates her own and her family’s emotionally charged relationships with the practice.

The staging is sparse but elegant – a white wall delineates the back of the stage, and two surgical screens are wheeled on and off. All three are occasionally the site of simple, but beautiful and effective, video projections. The cast are five: Paida Mutonono plays Fara, the girl whose story we follow in pieces interspersed throughout, while the other four actors provide a cacophony of voices from around the UK and further afield. They are all incredibly versatile, switching between multiple accents smoothly; embodying opposing viewpoints; picking up and dropping mannerisms. Their talents are perhaps the most striking aspect of the production once the shock and squeamishness provoked by the subject matter has dulled somewhat.

There is only one moment that feels clunky – when Fara delivers her final speech and then begins to sing. The other actors join Mutonono one by one and eventually their voices build in harmony to a climactic crescendo, singing the emotive words of Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise – but the number gets off to a shaky start that doesn’t do justice to the dramatic power of the speech that came before. However, this is a minor flaw in a thoroughly impressive production, throwing light on an issue that profoundly affects people and communities in the UK and abroad.

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