Writer Gloria Williams and director Lara Genovese on creating theatre, highlighting the topic of female genital mutilation
Writer Gloria Williams
Gloria, what first made you consider writing a play about FGM?
I was working for an Antenatal Screening programme and was invited to a conference about child health. A Gynaecologist spoke about FGM and the trauma within women. I started to visualise the emotional world of the women and felt that it needed to be manifested as a drama.
Why is this topic so important in the UK right now?
The NHS and other National bodies are reporting large numbers of British born girls from descendants of Africa, the Middle East and Asia who are being sent to have FGM. I feel it maybe a generational impact that has made it such a big topic right now. This is an old tradition but as new people enter the world, the need for change plays a big part in culture, politics and gender equality.
What has your research involved?
I have read a lot of journals, diaries, documentaries and spoken to a few women who have had FGM. I also have had subject matter experts explain things to me; a midwife told me a few stories of her experience with women giving birth and the complications.
What do you hope director Lara will bring to this play, that you cannot do yourself?
Having such an incredible female Director has brought an empathetic energy to the creative process, as she is a woman she is naturally standing for something by directing this story. I trust Lara will be able to bring a desire for truth to the actors and as she has such a rich experience with travel and people, her understanding of the human condition adds a great deal to how she directs the actors.
Lara is also skilled at so many other things, such as photography, architecture, project management and many more, so with all that said you put that type of person in a Directors chair, they are naturally going to put magic on the stage.
You’ve been developing your work in both the Talawa Theatre Company's and The Royal Court's Young Writers Groups. How has this experience helped you in the writing of this play?
I think the Royal Court and Talawa have a fantastic ethos of producing plays with subject matters of our times and encouraging writers to tell stories with a post-modern context.
This helped me become brave and to recognise an issue that’s happening in the World such as FGM and take authority to voice it and nurture it. They also helped me identify how I would express my voice and what feels true to me. BULLET HOLE is quite poetic in its rhythm and that’s how I view the London street dialect so it helps the audience relate to the characters.
You’ve also developed work at The Oval House, Hampstead Theatre, and The Soho Theatre, and been produced at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre and The New End Theatre. Was a pub theatre for this play a conscious decision?
I think there are great advantages to a pub theatre, for one there is a lot of freedom in creativity. It’s almost like the Independent scene for theatre creatives. I think that pub theatres offer a modest budget to growing Theatre companies and sets a marketable starting point for transfers to bigger venues.
Where do you hope this play will go after the festival
I would hope that the play could emerge to a venue that could reach more audiences. I feel the social awareness that we are trying to create within the context of BULLET HOLE would be reflected in its transition to a mainstream audience and discovering a London Home to reach a greater mass of people.
Director Lara Genovese:
Lara, How did it come about that you’re directing and producing a play about FGM?
Gloria, the writer, and I met at a Sunday Surgery Script workshop (our co producers on board). I was given an extract of her piece to work on and felt it had potential. So, I connected with her months later to check the final version of the script and we decided to collaborate to bring it to life.
The subject of FGM is a hot topic at the moment. Does that make it an easy subject to bring to the stage?
Certainly not an easy one to tackle, given the sensitive issues raised, but the cast on board are working really hard on character.
Is it important that a play be entertaining?
the script offers moments that are less dramatic and more focused on human relationships that balance out the harsh main theme.
As director, what past experiences will you bring to bear for this play?
I've worked on another piece placed in a mental institution. Not the same subject matter but certainly the same delicate nature. The key is to balance out the high stakes with something more lightweight and to make sure the characters move on a specific climatic journey that varies in intensity.
With a career in design, architecture and photography as well as theatre, what are the aesthetics you are striving for?
Being it a fringe festival, the technical and the aesthetics are limited both in money, time and logistics. Overall my idea was to offer something quite bare and simple, with a colour scheme that hasn’t much variation apart from the colour red," the blood", and light blue "the saintly colour” which is the house hold leading theme that aunt Winnie wishes to carry on. All those wearing such colours are "part of an army recruited from her or that need conversion". Sound and lighting wise everything is "cutting" as per the theme of the play and to emphasise what is going on in the character's heads: therefore minimal, as the silence speaks quite loud, and is more based on mood notes.
Was a pub theatre for this play a conscious decision?
It was based on the opportunity given when pitching the play for the festival. We are hoping the play finds interest and is picked up for a one month run in a bigger venue.
Etcetera Theatre 2 - 6 August
A striking new piece of theatre, by Gloria Williams (Camden Resident), inspired by real life events of UK women victims of FGM.
An all black female cast presenting the themes of feminism, female sexuality, human rights, rape, mental health and LGBT.
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.
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London Pub Theatres Magazine Limited July 2017