It’s time you knew your Rites

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Rites, Contact, Manchester

Whether you already hold an opinion on FGM, or perhaps mistakenly think it’s something to do with Free School Meals – or perhaps the Genetic Modification of crops – you need to see this play.

It’s a typically strident initiative from the National Theatre of Scotland, in partnership with Manchester’s Contact venue for young theatre-makers, to inform and educate on the subject of female genital mutilation.

So it’s never going to be your most comfortable night at the theatre, and – instead of coming away with a firm opinion – you’re as likely to be loaded with more questions than answers about a cultural practice that faces as many as 60,000 girls and women in this country alone.

More than once it’s emphasised that the aim here is to “have a conversation” and it is achieved with a theatrical simplicity, enhanced by sparing use of digital images.

The surgical screens that are used for those projections become a potent part of the minimal set design, and a lot of modern theatre could learn from the economy of technique used here.

A cast of five recite the actual words and enact the attitudes of what seem like scores of real-life characters – teachers, social workers, health professionals, police, lawyers, campaigners and, above all, the victims of the practice.

It’s verbatim theatre at its best, with one or two actors – especially Beth Marshall – appearing to directly channel the voices and body language of various personalities.

Just occasionally there’s a tendency to race the dialogue along rather than pace its dramatic delivery, but it’s only a few nights into what will be a national tour and that inclination should improve.

Rites shares the directness and dynamism of several other National Theatre of Scotland hits and demands to be seen by a much wider audience. It’s easy to think of around 60,000 for starters.

David Upton