The cast comprises Janet Kumah, James Mackenzie, Beth Marshall, Paida Mutonono and Elena Pavli.
A shade of silence quickly fell and transcended onto the stage as the audience waited apprehensively to witness the production that will successfully manage to capture the hearts and emotions of women across the country.
The night brought the first of three performances of the compelling theatre production that is Rites. This latest innovation from The National Theatre of Scotland delivers a ‘powerful and provocative creation which explores the deep-rooted cultural practice of female genital mutilation (FGM)’.
FGM often referred to as “female circumcision” or “cutting”, involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. This dramatized exploration has been created by Olivier award-winning director Cora Bissett and acclaimed Mancunian theatre –maker and poet Yusra Warsama, together they have courageously and sensitively ignited real life experiences from the Asian and African communities in the UK and placed it centre stage.
As we shine a light on the lives of the women that have undergone such extreme forms of FGM, there is a strange and confusing sensation which seems to amalgamate and settle around the audience. Many entered the auditorium with a perception of female circumcision already circulating in motion; however the complexity of this production starts to articulate a different conversation. Bissett and Warsama combine efforts to educate on the eradication of an ancient ritual that has been passed down for generations.
The play starts with a simple flash of light, cast down to a woman who is followed by stylised -screened imagery. She is dressed in a traditional Kaftan and dances around the stage before she welcomes us to West Africa; this is the beginning of her story and the interlude to her emotional and distressing journey.
We are placed in the living rooms of daughters and sisters who contend the rights of genital cuttings. We are faced with lawyers, police officers, midwives, teachers, and health workers who all share their stories, beliefs and fears from different perspectives.
This powerful drama forces us to acknowledge the fact that FGM is considered a traditional ritual in some cultures, which has been passed down for generations. It eradicates the consent from mothers who allow the cutting of genitalia, whilst displaying the risk of stigmatisation for those women who fight against it.
A play that has dared to address ‘the realm of cultural differences’, leaves the audience wide eyed, open mouthed and at times very uncomfortable. Director and co-creator Cora Bissett said “ Theatre is an extremely powerful medium to explore complex stories, put cultural practise under the spotlight and to find sensitive ways of portraying traumatic human experiences…..we are hoping that Rites will be a piece of theatre that doesn’t seek to demonise any one culture…”
What started as an idea constructed two years ago in Scotland has moved, educated an enlightened an audience, providing an unforgettable piece of theatre.
Finale showing tonight at Contact theatre.
Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol 19-23rd May 2015
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 26-30 May 2015.
TNT Theatre Leanna Smith