Cuttin’ It is a beautiful little firecracker of a play with a powerful message. Charlene James’s new play, produced in association with the Young Vic and Royal Court, takes the form of two monologues side by side and told in the present tense. It tells the story of two fifteen-year-old girls who attend the same school and who share a common bond. Muna is born in Somalia but raised in the UK since the age of three. The new girl at school, Iqra, moved to the UK from Somalia aged ten. Both girls are in the same English class but they do not speak until one special bus journey. As the story progresses, it is revealed that they both have experienced female genital mutilation but they each have different experiences and views on the issue. With Muna’s little sister’s seventh birthday approaching, the two girls’ worlds collide as Muna attempts to stop her sister from suffering a similar fate to her own.
The play is filled with brilliant teenage rebellion, angst towards bus drivers and references to disgraceful school dinner versions of jerk chicken and running on “brown people time”. There is awkward humour from Muna as she says the first thing that comes into her mind. The play is also full of refreshing childhood innocence as Iqra listens to Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’.
Cuttin’ It has the power of a five-act epic play in a mere seventy minutes. The actors are powerful, commanding and brilliant and they bring the excellent writing to life. Adelayo Adedayo plays the frustrated, loving and fierce Muna who carries a great burden on her shoulders. Tsion Habte plays the innocent and strong-willed Iqra who aims to make the world a better place. Adedayo and Habte are enchanting to watch. They listen to one another, respond and tell the story effectively, which leaves the audience hanging on the edge of their words.
The set design (developed by Natasha Shepherd and built by the Young Vic Workshops) adds to the poignancy of the play. The production takes place in the Maria Space and there is a large rigged seating block, reminiscent of a seating deck for a velodrome. The dull grey bricks act as Iqra’s harsh estate, the school and various other environments. At the finale of the play, the stairs light up to reveal a harrowing image of hundreds of pairs of little girls’ shoes. As of 2014, the European Parliament estimated that in Europe there are around 500,000 women who are living with the consequences of female genital mutilation. Cuttin’ It serves as a massive wake-up call to the serious issue of FGM in Britain.
Cuttin’ It is playing at the Young Vic until 11 June. For more information and tickets, see the Young Vic website. Photo: David Sandison