Rites - 'Why are women's bodies the property of everyone else?' - Review

Image - Sally Jubb

Based on interviews with people who have been affected by FGM (female genital mutilation) in the UK, Rites is informative and dynamic. It is a documentary play with evidence taken from many sources: women and families living with FGM; teachers who encounter it among their students; health workers and mid-wives dealing with the effects of FGM; lawyers and also from a female cutter (parlance for the person who carries out FGM). According to UNICEF there are 130 million women and girls living with FGM worldwide. Rites seeks to understand why communities (and in particular, why women) carry out FGM .

The play opens with Fara (Paida Mutonono) talking about her experiences. Paida gives an impassioned performance as Fara and through her, we see the effects of FGM and the continued threat of FGM for Fara’s female family members. As the play progresses, Fara’s story interlaces with other threads and provides dramatic momentum.

Janet Kumah is an imposing force playing several roles, including a highly articulate and provocative American academic who has chosen to undergo FGM. She states that FGM is an important part of her ‘ethnic identity’ whilst arguing that the term FGM is ‘constructed for pure shock value by western cultural supremacists’. She makes comparisons with the current trend for vagina sculpturing in the western world and questions why this is not considered in the same way as FGM.

Beth Marshall and James Mackenzie are assured in their multiple roles and provided outsiders’ perspectives. One striking moment is James’ portrayal of a father from Yemen desperate to protect his daughters from FGM. Last minute replacement for Elena Pavli, Deeivya Meir did a great job and played her multiple parts confidently despite having little time to prepare.

Documentary plays occasionally lack impetus but the direction, by Cora Bissett, ensured that momentum is kept. Media is mixed so there is a blend of audio, visual and drama, as well as a Q&A style scene with actors seated in the audience.

The message of the play is that FGM is not natural and not part of being a woman. If we are to change this, we have to educate girls so that their financial security does not rest on being able to marry. As Fara says, ‘Young people are the key to change.’ Rites throws light on this distressing subject and the play rightly deserves its acclaim.

(c) Samantha Coughlan May 2015

Mayfest/Tobacco Factory Theatre
Tues 19th - Sat 23rd May

1 hour 30 min

Created by Cora Bissett & Yusra Warsama
Directed by Cora Bissett
Produced by National Theatre Scotland and Contact Theatre Manchester

Janet Kumah
James Mackenzie
Beth Marshall
Paida Mutonono
Deeivya Meir

Sound Designer/Composer Patricia Panther
Video Designer Kim Beveridge
Set & Costume Design Jess Worrall
Lighting Designer Kate Bonney
Dramaturg George Aza-Selinger



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