Director: Cora Bissett
Co-creator: Yusra Warsama
Reviewer: Steven Ireland
Set back from Oxford Road, just past the colourfully remodelled Manchester Academy gig venue, the unassuming building of Contact Theatre could easily be missed, but inside dwells a vibrant venue with an output that’s consciously challenging, important and diverse. Rites, Contact’s co-production with National Theatre of Scotland, is the perfect embodiment of that sensibility.
Co-created by Yusra Warsama and director Cora Bissett, Rites is about female genital mutilation (FGM), and has been devised from their conversations with survivors, social workers, lawyers, and all manner of people who have encountered the practice directly or indirectly through a variety of means.
A cacophony of new reports, panel discussions, analysis and general media noise gives way to the character of Fara (played by Paida Mutonono), alone centre stage, and she begins with the line “I am real.” It is the authenticity of the voices portrayed that brings much of the power to the piece. One moment Beth Marshall is playing an assured and articulate asylum lawyer; then she’s a jovial midwife who stumbles over her words, digressing here and abandoning sentences there as she can’t quite pin down exactly what she wants to say.
Fara’s own story, from discovering that the ritual she endured was actually mutilation of her, forms a narrative thread that weaves among the testimonies provided by a host of characters: teachers, teenagers, social workers, immigrants, even an American who chose to be circumcised to connect with her roots. Mutonono, Marshall, James Mackenzie, Elena Pavli and Janet Kumah are all excellent. Kumah gives a particularly affecting turn as a former ‘cutter’ – the women who perform the operation.
Tackling such a subject could be daunting and harrowing but this performance is human, inclusive and not without humour. Bissett’s direction, with excellent support from the technical team of Jessica Worrall (set and costume), Kate Bonney (lighting), Patricia Panther (composer/sound), Kim Beveridge (Video) and Craig Kirk (Animation) brings life to the characters’ statements.
The subject is explored from all angles; tradition, culture, religion, prejudice – FGM was used in the UK and the USA to ‘treat’ lesbianism. By helping the audience to understand the complexities of the issue, the performance reveals the ultimate simplicity of it: it is the normality of FGM that must be tackled. Just as it was previously normal for a man to hit his wife, it has been and continues to be normal that FGM takes place in the world.
Runs until 14 May 2015 then tours| Photo Sally Jubb