Theatre review: Rites
New work from Cora Bissett and Yusra Warsama explores assumptions around female genital mutilation
Created by Cora Bissett – best known for her dynamic study of human trafficking, Roadkill – and performance poet Yusra Warsama, Rites explores the cultural practice of female genital mutilation, also termed female circumcision or cutting.
Recently the focus of a campaign by Equality Now, FGM is a traditional practice that has often been seen as an example of patriarchal control of women, but taps into wider discussions about cultural identity and the right of young women to take control of their bodies.
The production is based on interviews conducted with people who have experience of FGM in the UK, and follows the various discussions surrounding the practice, without ever losing sight of its negative impact, both on individuals and communities.
Rites aims to illustrate the discussion with verbatim voices. The central story follows Fara, a young women from Gambia living in Scotland. Realising she is the victim of FGM at a university lecture on gender violence, she leads us on an emotional journey of complex questions.
The rest of the five strong cast flit seamlessly between a multitude of characters of varying ethnicities, ages and attitudes, demonstrating an impressive range of regional accents. Their accounts include victims, their relatives and the wide spectrum of people whose employment requires an understanding of the practice; a refugee lawyer, social worker, teacher, midwife, campaigner and female pastor.
Rites skilfully highlights the complexity of FGM, demonstrating it is intrinsically linked to bigger questions of race, immigration, cultural tradition and education. Left mostly unexplored is the experience of sexuality and desire following FGM. The contrasting accounts force you to question your assumptions, continuously shifting perspective on an issue that is revealed as far from a simple question of for or against.
The final message is positive as more voices join the discussion of this taboo subject. Rites is not a call to arms; it is a powerful call to listen.
Reviewed at Tron Theatre, Glasgow.