Gloria Williams’ new play Bullet Hole, which explores the issue of female genital mutilation, is running at Park Theatre in London until the end of October. Williams tells Giverny Masso why she feels this is an essential story…
What was the inspiration for Bullet Hole?
When I was between acting jobs working for the NHS, I attended a conference where a midwife, who is a specialist in female genital mutilation, was explaining about the procedure and how primary-school-aged British girls are being sent to Africa to have it done. It really touched me, the idea of someone who is only eight years old having that done and then having to live as though everything is normal again back in the UK. I did some research and felt this was an important topic to explore – as it’s happening to young girls who don’t have a voice.
What is the play about?
It has three protagonists: an FGM survivor, Cleo, aged 30, who is played by me, Cleo’s aunty, and fellow FGM survivor Eve. Cleo wants to have the stitches taken out and the procedure reversed, but her aunty is more traditional – from an older generation and she tries to convince Cleo to keep it. We have partnered with lots of different charities, FGM activists and NHS representatives to host two post-show Q&A sessions, which will take place on October 10 and 18.
Why is it important to tell this story in theatre?
It’s a national issue if you take a British-born girl, who is still in school, and do that hideous act to her and then expect her to live her life. Now there is more awareness of the issue, people are becoming more secretive about it, and doing it to girls who are even younger so they are not old enough to be aware of what is going on. I want to get people thinking, and hopefully it will help some people to change their minds.
How did you get into theatre?
I went to drama school and did a degree in American theatre arts at Rose Bruford. When I came out of drama school, being a black actress meant work was not easy to find, so I trained with the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme and the Talawa Writers’ Programme, and started to teach myself to write scripts – to write the roles I wanted to see. My first full-length show was a one-woman show called Monday, which we toured around festivals and took to the Edinburgh Fringe.
What else do you have coming up?
I have written a play about Nigerian sex workers in Italy, which I’ve had readings of and will continue to develop. I am also working on a play about mental health. I’d like to write more plays about stories from black communities. Plays from minority groups seem to be grouped into a ‘BAME’ category, which means the stories end up in competition against one another for space. I feel there should be more diversity and theatres should not categorise works as ‘black plays’ – we should appreciate writers as people.
Training: American theatre arts at Rose Bruford (2002-05), Royal Court Young Writers’ programme (2008), Talawa Young Writers’ Programme (2006-07)
First professional role: Medea (2006)
Bullet Hole is running at the Park Theatre, London until October 2 to 27