Seen at Tron Theatre, Glasgow;
at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh,
Reviewed by Mark Brown
When it comes to making work addressing major socio-political subjects, there are few among Scotland’s theatre artists who are as brave, or as creative, as Cora Bissett. In previous, critically acclaimed pieces she has considered the trafficking of girls and young women into prostitution in the UK (Roadkill) and a famous campaign against the deportation of child asylum seekers from Scotland (Glasgow Girls).
Now, in Rites, a work she has co-created with Yusra Warsama for the National Theatre of Scotland, she tackles the complex and anguished issue of female genital mutilation (FGM). However, whether verbatim drama, in which previously spoken words are edited into the shape of a play, is the best theatrical form for this subject is debatable.
Verbatim theatre was made famous by such plays as The Colour Of Justice (about the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry) and Justifying War (based on the Hutton Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly), both by journalist Richard Norton-Taylor. Rites is a very similar piece of work.
A fine, five-strong cast speak the words of a variety of British-based interviewees, from survivors of FGM to lawyers and health workers who are involved in the issue. This enables Bissett and Warsama to successfully educate their audience in the complexities of this vexed and emotive subject and to challenge some dangerous myths surrounding it.
One admires the work’s commitment, both to the campaign against FGM and a principled stand against any effort to turn that campaign into an attack on particular ethnic or religious groups. However, as so often with verbatim theatre, the piece lacks the pace and energy required by live theatre.
Ultimately, one can’t help but feel that the immense research and political engagement involved in the show would be better served by TV or film documentary.
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on May 17, 2015
© Mark Brown