Blog: Gbolahan Obisesan

The director of Cuttin’It, a play about two survivors of FGM, writes about her hope to move towards eradicating the practice completely

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Cuttin’It is a play that presents the voice and testimony of two 15-year-old Somali girls. We see the characters navigating their precocious responses to the cultural and social pressures they experience as teenagers alongside the hidden trauma of being survivors of FGM.

The practice of FGM – female genital mutilation or female genital cutting – has a very complex history and its cultural association with religious practice is primarily based on stigma and appropriation.

A statistic from the World Health Organisation reports an estimated 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in the countries where the practice is concentrated. Furthermore, there are an estimated three million girls at risk of undergoing FGM every year. The majority of girls are cut before they turn 15 years old.

I was drawn to Charlene James’s play Cuttin’It because it felt urgent and important in raising awareness of and inviting compassion for the silent burden many young girls and women have to bear.

Reading the play I was incredibly struck by the beautifully crafted internal monologues of the girls, the intricate details of their environments and their societies’ expectations, challenging their own need to be heard as they pursue the lives they want to live.

The form of the play is challenging: mainly direct address monologues from the perspective of two central characters, and the action jumps around in time and location. Occasionally Charlene allows the two central characters to interact, dramatically shifting the emotional function of the narrative. It’s an effective and engaging device.

When casting for the play, as director I wanted to find actors who looked close to the characters’ ages but who also possessed the innate instincts to depict the more challenging emotional demands of the script.

Meeting and finding the two actors Adelayo Adedayo and Tsion Habte felt like a real triumph. Their level of engagement with the internal life of the characters as well as the issues woven into the play made me feel the rehearsal process was going to have the right balance of intelligent interrogation of character motives as well as the playfulness needed to keep the production nimble and dynamic.

Ultimately I feel Cuttin’It wants to disarm audiences by avoiding sensationalising the ritual practice. It encourages audiences to view these two teenage characters in relation to our own social and cultural reference points. Through this, the audience discover secrets shared by the characters, as well as the overwhelming ramifications of further social resistance – or passive indifference – to engage with the legacy of female genital cutting.

My hope in staging this play and touring it across the UK is that there is more awareness of the practice of FGM and its psychological and biological implications and effects. If audiences are compelled to join a growing number of outspoken survivors and activists, we can move towards eradicating the practice completely.

Cuttin’It runs at Sheffield Theatres, 20–23 July

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