views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Bullet Hole
Etcetera Theatre
4th August 2017

★★★☆☆

Gloria Williamas as Cleo

Photography provided by Naiad Productions

You never really know what to expect from the Camden Fringe. Clowning, circus arts, stand up comedy... and FGM. In a change of mood from some of the bright and breezy shows this August, Gloria Williams' play Bullet Hole tackles the very important and worryingly still very relevant issue of female genital mutilation. After being raped by her husband (yes, this play is as dark as they come), FGM survivor Cleo (Williams) decides to leave him and seek deinfibulation surgery. Looking for support in what is an utterly horrendous time, she is sent to stay with her staunchly religious Aunt Winnie (Brig Bennett) and family friend Eve (Josephine Samson), who despite everything cannot relate to why Cleo might possibly want to defy tradition.

After being cut as a young girl in a painful ritual which is explained to us in shocking detail later in the play, Cleo has grown up to be a feisty, opinionated Londoner. There are details of her life left unexplained, as you would expect from an hour-long play, but her modern values, confidence and the fact she's previously visited a clinic to find out more about the reversal surgery all suggest she has a support network outside of her family and other avenues she could explore for help. Although it is likely she is homeless, having walked out of her marriage, it is frustratingly unclear why she is staying with Aunt Winnie when they clash so much. This is no downtrodden woman, having been mentally beaten down into accepting her lot and there is no evidence of physical restraint, at least in the early scenes. Cleo strikes us as the sort of woman who would only stay with Aunt Winnie under extreme duress and would not stop trying to find a way to escape if the room was indeed locked shut.

Despite some misgivings over the setting, there are some devastatingly brilliant moments in this piece. Aunt Winnie's monologues justifying her beliefs are delivered with such a credible conviction of spirit that we feel physically sick listening to Bennett deliver her lines. We never doubt the older woman truly thinks what she went through was right and that all women should suffer the same experience. We desperately want her to listen to Cleo's point of view and renounce her tradition in favour of supporting the younger woman in her moment of need, however the more she rants, the more we realise that's unlikely. She is a woman helping to perpetuate violence against other women and that is so very hard to stomach. It's a truly stellar performance by Bennett.

Samson's character is conflicted, with Eve's expression constantly troubled. Although her role is to help Aunt Winnie look after Cleo as a quasi-prison guard, bringing Cleo meals and checking on her, she is struggling with her own identity and is pulled in different directions by the two other women. The attraction between Cleo and Eve does though linger in the air as a missed plot device. Given the weighty issues already running through Williams' script, there just isn't enough time to explore this possible crisis of sexuality any further. Whilst it could add yet another excelent layer to an already complex script, challenging the validity of Aunt Winnie's traditions further, it is glossed over in one moment that barely happens so sadly doesn't add anything.

There are some haunting performances in Bullet Hole and clear opportunities for further development. This is not only an important piece of art that makes for a gripping show but continues to spread the message that FGM has not gone away and we all need to educate ourselves properly on its horror.

Bullet Hole opened on 2nd August and runs until 6th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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