Young Vic, Royal Court, Birmingham Rep and Sheffield Theatres
At the end of this short play about Female Genital Mutilation, some people left the theatre with tears in their eyes. I was angry!
Two talented young actresses delivered a beautifully constructed script by Charlene James, which started with the two girls from Somalia coming together as friends, and gradually revealed their experience of the ‘cuts’ they had received as seven-year-olds.
I was appalled by Iqra’s account of her ‘cuts’. It would be disturbing enough for girl of that age to be in a space with unfamiliar women who pinned her to the floor and forced her legs apart. That would be embarrassment enough.
But then the medically unqualified ‘surgeon’ got to work in insanitary conditions and used a razor to excise the clitoris and whatever other parts might prevent the girl from from being perceived as ‘pure’ by a potential husband. That was the Somalia story.
We then progressed to current practice in England. When mothers can’t afford to return to the home country, there are apparently opportunities here to find people who will continue the practice, again in ad hoc and unhygienic conditions, just like back street abortionists.
The most disturbing thing about the play is the collusion of mothers in this practice, although they will have experienced it themselves. This is ‘tradition’ and must be perpetuated, whatever the long term damage to health, the difficulty of childbirth, or any possibility of enjoying the sexual act.
What really drives this is a paternalistic society where the man has to be sure that he is getting untouched goods. Just like getting a parcel from Amazon.
Charlene James has managed to embrace all of these complex issues in a play that draws us in to the experience of the two protagonists, is not without humour and gradually moves to an inevitable, half-anticipated but searing conclusion.
Joanna Scothcer’s set is appropriate for a touring production and Gbolahan’s direction uses the levels imaginatively. The final image is very effective and reminds me, rather grimly, of items confiscated from prisoners in concentration camps.
But huge plaudits have to go Adelayo Adedayo as Muna and Tsion Habte as Iqra in her debut performance. Two very different actresses but each performing with conviction and sincerity. Habte draws us in with her quiet sensitivity and Adedayo with her passion.
The slight disappointment was that this was performed to a full audience of mainly white people who were presumably informed and sympathetic about the issue presented. How would it be possible to present this to a group of Somali women in hijabs, some of whom must have grown up in this country, as indeed Muna did in the play?
FGM is now a crime in the UK, particularly when practised on young girls. Efforts are also being made to stop women escorting girls to countries of origin for the procedure.
Reviewer: Velda Harris