Given the ‘global village’ that humanity in the twenty-first century is supposed to be living in, the benefits, as well as drawbacks of other cultures and societies come to people’s attention from time to time. Certain practices will also draw the attention of the likes of healthcare professionals – and the police.
For Winnie (Brig Bennett), what liberal Western democracies see as inhumane is simply a continuation of tradition – of heritage, in more ways than one. Despite her hardline ways, there’s at least a modicum of sympathy by the end of Bullet Hole for someone who lives with a seemingly genuine fear of her interpretation of God, who in His all-knowing wisdom, will find a way, or so she believes, of smiting her for her past – the past that she’s stuck in.
For Cleo (Gloria Williams), as an advertisement campaign in London in 2009 put it, there’s probably no God. Cue arguments between the aunt and her niece, which could easily have carried on long past the show’s running time if it were not for Eve (Josephine Samson), repeatedly stepping in to try to diffuse tensions. She wasn’t always the voice of calm, however, in a narrative that includes some detailed descriptions of what happens to women who are victims (is ‘survivors’ a better collective noun?) of female genital mutilation (FGM).
These may be the sort of stories people will have heard before, perhaps in the Channel 4 documentary The Cruel Cut (2013) or the BBC Three Comic Relief documentary Stop Cutting Our Girls (2015), or the ever-growing mass of online content. What makes this play stand out is this: it’s not set out in some other part of the world. FGM is happening in Britain today.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take long for the play to identify faults with God, or rather the perception of God as interpreted by organised religion. Let’s just say that it’s not only the Western churches that have scandals and, just as pertinent, cover-ups to those scandals. Some of the remarks made about the role of God in people’s lives bring to mind The Book of Mormon musical; what is satire in that show is portrayed as genuine beliefs in this one. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be concerned.
Elsewhere, relations between Cleo and Eve become, well, interesting – and a clinic Cleo visits actually exists in central London. The lecturing from Winnie does put a downer on proceedings, and I could only agree with Cleo’s pleading, “Please just stop chatting.” I’m not sure about Winnie and Eve turning out to be ‘witches’, as Cleo almost screams, but there is a clear case of unlawful imprisonment going on.
There’s something gloriously British about Cleo managing not only a smile but a hearty laugh in the face of all this adversity. But I’ve mentioned documentaries because that’s what the show feels like, a documentary rather than a drama, for better or for worse, as though the show is a vehicle to disseminate information. It’s clearly well-researched and does well not to subject audiences to information overload.
The ending doesn’t pull together all the loose ends together as neatly as it could, and the play is all the better for that. After all, life, as Cleo (and so many others in other places) puts it, is a bitch. While it could benefit from some deeper character development, all things considered, the play is an impassioned and formidable production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Cleo, a young woman in London who has been living with Type 3 Female Genital Mutilation since she was seven. After being raped by her husband, she finds the strength to undergo reversal surgery at a fictional African Women’s Clinic.
Cleo’s family oppose her decision and send her to stay with her Aunty Winnie and friend Eve in an attempt to convince her to accept her circumcision as a ‘Gift’ from God. They try to force her to love her body and accept her condition as a way to physically differentiate from imperialist culture.
Eve, a fellow FGM victim with her own internal conflicts, finds herself infatuated with Cleo and attracted to her sexually. Aunt Winnie’s failed attempts to push Cleo into submission are further heightened when she discovers an ambiguous moment between the two girls.
CAMDEN FRINGE FESTIVAL 2nd to 6th of August at 8.30pm – Etcetera Theatre
Book Tickets for Bullet Hole
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