Friday, 15 May 2015

RITES @ Contact Theatre, 12.05.15

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
This humble quote from Socrates has been at the forefront of my mind. Most recently I have came back to these words when watching the lead up to the election, trying to see through the murky waters of promised change. And again in the aftermath to deal with the result we were dealt. Above all, these words fired to my brain faster than a round from a Smith and Wesson when I witnessed RITES at the Contact Theatre this week.

RITES is a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and Contact, which explores the deep-rooted cultural practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Both theatres have earned a significant national and international reputation for daring and original work, and continue to do so through RITES, their most recent production.

RITES is abundantly powerful and does incredibly well at approaching an issue objectively but with sensitivity. The idea for the piece dates back two years ago where director and co-creator Cora Bissett was advised by a friend working as a Children’s officer for the Scottish Refugee Council, to devise a piece which would shed light on the practice of FGM. After musing on how to tackle the subject, Bissett joined forces with writer Yusra Warsama whom she met at Edinburgh Fringe. The two then conducted a series of complex interviews around the UK with FGM survivors, doctors, midwives, campaigners and lawyers; the accounts of which make up the this honest and thought provoking piece.

A soundscape of statistics and news reports engulfs the auditorium as we take our seats, which is interrupted by the entrance of Fara saying the pivotal line ‘I am real’. What a wonderful way to start a topical piece! We’re engaged from the first utterance but we’re not permitted to become too comfortable; urged to remember these characters exist; they’re real as are their words. This practice is really happening.

The piece has an authenticity which is aided by stunning performances from all the cast whom take on a variety of personas, moving the narrative along while covering all perceptions towards FGM. Fara played by Paida Mutonono is wonderful. Beth Marshall particularly stood out in various roles, going from affirmative and direct detective one moment, to a wholesome and kind but stumbling midwife. A very compelling performance came from Janet Kumah as she played a repentant ‘cutter’ (the women that would perform FGM in their native villages), after learning a new understanding of the ritual she abandons the practice and appeals others to follow her example. This character was particularly pivotal as it embodied the ethos of the piece and of words of Socrates: change happens in the future and it is to be built upon.

Words: Kate Morris

Images: Courtesy of Farrows Creative (top), Sally Jubb (bottom)

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