Date: 12 may 2015
The Contact Theatre in Manchester is renowned for its high quality and diverse artistic programme. With experimental and bold theatre at it’s core, Contact Theatre has joined forces with the National Theatre of Scotland, acclaimed champions of storytelling and creative risk taking to produce this powerful new play, RITES.
RITES is a verbatim piece of theatre, borne out of interviews conducted with real people who have been directly affected or have some experience of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The people who were interviewed to make this production are from all over the UK and are FGM survivors, medical staff, health and social workers, activists and campaigners.
When the play begins, Fara (Paida Mutonono) asks us to “start by listening” and it is her direct story of FGM which forms the backbone of the production. The other characters that are presented to us also provide their viewpoints and share their stories which furthermore enriches the play giving it integrity, balance and depth. The four other members of the cast (Janet Kumah, James Mackenzie, Beth Marshall, Eleni Pavli) play a range of vibrant characters which include a group of Somali women swigging tea discussing western media and guests on a talk show with differing viewpoints. Director Cora Bissett and Co-creator Yusra Warsama’s staging does not demonise or judge victims of FGM but asks us to step back and understand a subject which is not as straightforward as we are led to believe.
RITES is an accomplished example of verbatim theatre – performances are all strong with each character’s mannerisms, stumble for words and idiosyncrasies adding to their credibility. And despite the heavy subject matter, the play does have a scattering of humour too particularly from female Muslim Chaplain Abhaya (Elena Pavli) and midwife Vanessa (Beth Marshall).
Jessica Worrall’s set design is perfectly simple allowing each of the characters and their narratives to shine through. Projections are used on stark white hospital screens, some are powerful signifiers such as razor blades whereas as others simply suggest Fara’s search for reason and truth with images of her google searches and tense skype calls to her mother.
After the 90 minutes of theatre, I walked out into Manchester with a different mindset on the subject of FGM and definitely a deeper understanding. I also felt hopeful for the future – FGM cannot be condoned but in order for us to change it, we have to step back, listen and gather facts so that we can challenge it and eventually put an end to this abusive practice.
Rites is at Contact Theatre until 14 May 2015 (with a women only performance on 13 May at 12:30pm) before continuing its tour at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol from 19 May -23 May 2015 and then Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh from 26 May- 30 May 2015.