Theatre preview: Rites
Cora Bissett and Yusra Warsama tackle FGM in new play
Not one to shy away from highly sensitive topics, award-winning theatremaker and performer Cora Bissett has produced work on sex trafficking (Roadkill), and the plight of asylum seekers (Glasgow Girls). As part of the Tron Theatre's Mayfesto season, she follows up her successes with Rites, co-created with Yusra Warsama, which examines in unflinching detail the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), Using a panoply of voices from women affected by the practice, both abroad and in the UK, from mothers, through health workers to the police, Rites examines the range and extent of the issue.
Co-creator Warsama is aware that the issue is loaded. ‘We hope that Rites will explore the complexities of FGM, (even) the grey areas where we are too scared to look at because it sits in the realm of cultural difference.’ And Bissett is keen to emphasis the importance of the stage for examining ideas.
‘Theatre is an extremely powerful medium to explore complex stories, put cultural practice under the spotlight and to find sensitive ways of portraying traumatic human experiences,’ she states. ‘Through extensive research and interviews across the UK, with women affected in diverse communities, we are hoping Rites will be a piece of theatre which doesn’t seek to demonise any one culture. We hope to ask questions of practices contained within many cultures and give space to discuss those very sensitive areas where cultural practice and human rights come into direct conflict.’
Bissett continues: ‘The cast are playing multiple roles, and all of whom are based on real people. So they know every word is truth, and that can be hard when you are trying to play someone else's 'truth'. They are a fantastically intelligent, inquisitive and compassionate company, so I know that every 'real' person is safe in their hands.’
She goes on: 'I don't have a formula, so you just have to work it out as you go along. I have to balance storytelling with some hefty stats and facts at times, because there is some background info you really need to know.’
Typically for Bissett, the full panoply of theatrical techniques are used, including video projections by Kim Beveridge, who worked with Bissett on Whatever Gets You Through the Night. ‘I try to give space to some of the story moments by using Kim's beautiful projections, which are hugely integrated into the piece,’ she adds.
The issue of FGM is an emotive one, but Bissett's dynamic, multi-layered direction has demonstrated that she is not only capable of dealing sensitively with tough subjects, but also providing sobering and humane insight.