As with Cora Bissett’s previous productions Glasgow Girls and Roadkill, Rites engages with a distressing social problem. Female genital mutilation is examined through a range of verbatim monologues and conversations, with a brief introduction explaining that while the words are performed by actors, they were spoken by ‘real’ people.
This gives the production an emotional honesty. Although there is only a single scene that suggests a positive aspect to FGM – which is rapidly debunked – the structure is complicated by the different ways in which the problem can be addressed. Prosecution is dismissed, education is emphasised and the verbatim speech covers opinions of carers, lawyers and even a youth group in Bristol, set up in response to the widespread instances of FGM in one school.
The urgency of the subject is not always matched by the pace of the production: scenes are bounded by musical interludes that offer contemplative space, and early scenes emphasising the violence of FGM are replaced by more optimistic responses, concluding that it will be eradicated in time. The cast jumps between characters with confidence, and the script avoids sensationalism, even when dealing with horrific details and startling statistics.
Rites brings the depth of the discussion against FGM to light, encouraging a debate not on its morality (it is presented as wrong) but the best ways to combat it without slipping towards a strict cultural absolutism. If it wanders a little around the point, Rites is an intelligent and cohesive performance that aims to provoke thoughtful consideration and balanced activism.
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