Joanna Scotcher’s design is a set of stairs in the concrete-grey of institutions, of social housing. It is huge. The two young women who deliver Charlene James’ text are dwarfed by its structure, and enclosed by it. Above them, bright red fencing hangs – again: institutional, restrictive. They appear from hidden holes within it, like a bunker.
And there is a huge incision right through the design.
Incision isn’t quite right. The cut is neat, through the staircase, downstage to upstage. It creates angles, it’s artistic. “Clean” even, that word which Iqra (Tsion Habte) uses to reassure Muna (Adelayo Adedayo) about the procedures that she helps her ‘Auntie’ perform. But the red fencing above is torn, twisted metal. There’s precision and care in one action, and unintended brutality and cruelty follows. Scotcher’s design is seismic – a physical wound that refuses to heal.
No one enters or exits through the wound in the stage. No one acknowledges it. The girls walk around it, step over the gap, don’t look down. Don’t allow yourself to think about it.
In fact, under Gbolahan Obisesan’s direction, neither girl looks directly at much. Delivering their intertwining monologues to the audience, they talk past each other, only breaking into direct conversation – and corresponding eye-contact – twice, for a moment of first tentative friendship between the two Somalia-born schoolgirls, and a heightened stand-off as Muna realises what her new friend helps do to young girls on the weekend.
It takes a lot to talk about female genital mutilation. It takes longer if you’re living with it, if you’ve been told it’s normal, if you’ve been told it’s special, that it’s part of your identity. James’ text uses Muna’s fear that what has happened to her will also be visited upon her younger sister to drive the topic into the open between the two girls.
“This is real. It’s happening now in towerblocks on Saturday mornings,” Muna tells us at her most direct – a young woman angrily telling a Young Vic audience something they don’t want to acknowledge.
Azusa Ono’s lighting is ever so slightly on the nose, with violent flashes of light emanating from the wound of the set during speeches recounting violent and horrifying acts. But lighting and design come together perfectly for the set’s final heart-breaking reveal, contextualising these two young women’s conflict within the rise of FGM in the UK.
A big co-production between the Young Vic & the Royal Court Theatre with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Sheffield Theatres and The Yard Theatre, this is an important play which could have been swallowed by a sense of worthiness. Instead an earnest but measured text is ably supported by two very strong young performers and a knockout, suggestive and ruminative design,
Cuttin It is on until Saturday 11 June 2016 at the Young Vic and then touring to the The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Royal Court, Sheffield Crucible and The Yard.