With Sky News recently accused of ‘having no conscience’ by activist, Leyla Hussein (who co-founded anti-FGM campaign Daughters of Eve) for filming a young Somalian girl undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM), this new play by Charlene James illustrates the barbaric act to the Western palate without the need for videoing the violation of a vulnerable girl. The decision for Sky to choose filming the event rather than intervening or recreating the scenario, clearly spotlights the immoral Western gaze that subjected an innocent girl in the name of reporting the news – would they have stood back and shot a man subjecting a woman to domestic violence? Would they have allowed it if the little black, African girl was white? James seems to have solved the problem by writing a powerful piece of theatre that fully immerses the audience into the headlines of today without adding to the image of a predatory western reporter who does not stand in the way of documenting nature.
Weaving together the two experiences of school girls Muna and Iqra in realistic and emotive monologues, James has created a safe and recognisable environment of teenage-angst to explore a ritual that takes place in Britain’s ethnic communities. Adelayo Adedayo brilliantly plays the characterful Muna, a typical Somalian-born, British-bred 15-year-old whose sass and frustration at the world and herself breeds laughter and understanding which mediates the tougher topic with empathetic results. Tsion Habte carries the Somalian refugee Iqra with a steely grace and shy reserve but who longs for friendship and acceptance. A shared heritage provides the common ground for the pair’s friendship to blossom and allows Muna to relinquish her fears about her sister’s up-and-coming seventh birthday.
Tsion Habte and Adelayo Adedayo in Cuttin’ It // via Royal Court Theatre
James’ sensitivity around the matter at hand permeates the writing when Muna speaks of her fear for a baby sister due to her awareness of what she’ll have to endure rather than the jealousy that the parents believe her emotional reaction to be. The two teenagers’ cultures collide highlighting the ideological differences between two girls brought up under the same faith. Both project the emotional and psychological pain with a naturalism that unsettles the audience, challenging the men sitting around me to sit still and supress their flinches and uncomfortable crossing of knees.
Gbolahan Obisesan’s compelling 70-minute production flew by with conviction and deft direction. Joanna Scotcher’s layered grey brick set provides the basis for the girls to play out their story whilst maintaining a physical rupture in the centre which divides them and which lights up at the end to reveal row upon row of tiny, girls’ shoes representing the half a million women who are living with the consequence of decisions made by elders in the name of tradition. Throughout the play I wondered where the mothers’ voices were yet I came out also wondering why the omission of men, apart from as a reason for this practice of ‘cleaning’ the girl for her future husband, left me feeling even more uncomfortable.
Royal Court Theatre // via YouTube.com
Cuttin’ It plays until the 26th March at The Royal Court Theatre where tickets start at £10. Box office: 020-7565-5000. The show then continues on tour and shows at The Yard Theatre until the 30th July. Find out more at www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/cuttingit