Young Vic Theatre presents CUTTIN’ IT by Charlene James: Theatre Review

The doors open to the Maria Studio a short while before the performance begins, providing valuable time to contemplate Joanna Scotcher’s foreboding set and to orientate ourselves with the space.  A cold grey wall of steps rises up from the floor, encaged in red with a jagged slash cutting through the design. The lights change and we meet Muna (Adelayo Adedayo), an energetic fifteen year-old schoolgirl running for the 47 bus and bemoaning her immunity to the alarm she sleeps through every morning. Her warm smile and streetwise attitude has us laughing along and we feel so at ease with her that we wonder how the play will navigate its shift towards tackling the challenging subject matter.

Female Genital Mutilation. Even those unfamiliar with the practice find themselves chilled by the name. Playwright Charlene James dedicates her script to the 500,000 girls and women across Europe living with the “lifelong consequences” of FGM. Through the wonderfully drawn, contrasting characters of Muna and Iqra (Tsion Habte), James encourages her audience to take the debate surrounding FGM beyond its cultural constraints and to acknowledge that it is a crisis of human rights. She also teaches us that the situation is not as black-and-white as “all cutters are evil”, as many of the mothers who have their daughters cut genuinely believe it is in their best interests – they believe it makes them clean.

Muna was flown back to Somalia to be cut when she was seven, and is terrified about the same thing happening to her younger sister now her seventh birthday approaches. She confides in Iqra and they forge a tentative friendship based on their shared heritage and love of Rihanna. Muna’s boldness brings out Iqra’s mellow and reserved nature, with the two characters complementing each other beautifully. Adedayo and Habte give outstanding performances here, two of the strongest I think I have ever seen. Adedayo’s ability to deliver Muna’s humour and sass as well as her increasing vulnerability and crippling shame is hugely striking, whilst Habte’s heart-wrenching account of the day Iqra was cut is played with such raw emotion that it is truly devastating.

James’s script is honest, evocative and resolute, brought to stunning life by Gbolahan Obisesan’s balance of intimacy and interrogation. It is a perfect example of a director being in tune with the work at their fingertips and building a faithful relationship with it. I love the small moments of rhyme in the writing, making Muna sound as if she is about to launch into performance poetry on occasion. I would however like to see more interaction between the two characters as the combination of monologue, direct address and narration sometimes means we miss that personal connection between the girls. Due to the monologue form of the play, Muna and Iqra also say exactly what they are thinking a lot of time and as a result, exposition doesn’t always feel as organic as it could be.

That said, the impact of the piece is inescapable. From the visceral language to the powerful imagery it conjures, Cuttin’ It makes you almost taste the hideous scent of stale blood and Dettol at the back of your throat as young girls writhe on the floor in the most searing pain. A deeply tense, unsettling story of stolen innocence and the price some girls have to be pay to reach womanhood.

© Hannah Roe, 2016



Written by Charlene James

Playing at the Maria @ Young Vic Theatre

66 The Cut, Waterloo, London, SE1 8LZ

Closes 11th June


Weekday and Saturday evenings at 7.45pm (except 30th May)

Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.45pm

Captioned performance: 7th June at 7.45pm

Tickets: £10, £20, £25

Running time: 1hr 10mins, no interval


“Audiences are invited to stay after the show on Thursday 2nd June and Tuesday 7th June for post-show discussions.


2nd June: Panel to be confirmed

7th June: Panel to include Hekate Papadaki and Celia Jeffreys from Barnardos National FGM Centre, and FGM campaigner and survivor Sarian Karim Kamara.”


Direction – Gbolahan Obisesan

Design – Joanna Scotcher

Light – Azusa Ono

Sound – Adrienne Quartly

Cast – Adelayo Adedayo and Tsion Habte


Cuttin’ It is a Young Vic / Royal Court Theatre co-production with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Sheffield Theatres and the Yard Theatre. Following its run at the Young Vic, it will play the following venues:


Birmingham Repertory Theatre: 14th – 18th June 2016

Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court: 23rd June – 13th July 2016

Latitude Festival: 15th July 2016

Sheffield Crucible: 20th – 23rd July 2016

Yard Theatre: 26th – 30th July 2016


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