Review – The Final Cut, La Zénna Theatre Company, University of Northampton Flash Festival, Hazelrigg House, Northampton, 18th May 2016

The Final CutThe Final Cut is an astonishing, brave, informative, and emotional one woman show about Female Genital Mutilation. There. There’s no other way of saying it. In the tiny studio at Hazelrigg House, Elizabeth Adejimi conjures up a village in rural Nigeria, where tradition is compulsory and there’s no thought given to altering the practices of generations. Traditional garments hang on the washing line and by taking an item of clothing off the line and putting it on, she becomes some of the different characters in the village. Simple, but amazingly effective.

It’s all about Aminata, a young girl that Miss Adejimi brings to life with such a sense of juvenile fun. We see her in her school uniform, brushing the path, nicking the snacks, dancing to the music of the village. One word from her scary sounding mother and she’s worried that she’s heading for a smack. She gives us such an atmosphere of total innocence. She seems to have no idea what’s coming her way.

We meet her mother. A kind woman, a good woman. A loving mother and a good wife. Very traditional, she has always done what society has required of her and will ensure that she passes that tradition on. We meet her father, the hunter. In this remarkably matriarchal society, he plays no part in deciding how the daughter will be brought up. His job is to provide a home and food. And we meet the cutter – what other word is there to describe her? Again a traditional woman, who believes implicitly in the goodness of her trade, who recognises that her act is steeped in the mysteries of the past, and that she must continue to practice her art – even though she admits she doesn’t really understand why.

La ZennaAnd finally we see Aminata again, dressed for the ceremony; scared, embarrassed, desperate for help or support from anywhere but it’s not there. She just has to yield to the tradition, lying on the floor, allowing her pants to be pulled off so the cutter can wield her knife; crying out with the searing pain; in tears of humiliation and abuse; left with as much dignity as she can muster, she has to get on with her childhood. Except that this is now seen as her becoming a woman. Probably at the age of about nine.

As you can imagine, this is an incredibly moving performance – Miss Adejimi takes us through all the emotions, of laughing with Aminata at her childish foolishness, warming to the mother as she offers us in the audience some snack refreshments in creole, fearful yet strangely respectful of the cutter lady; and finally sharing the agony and humiliation of the deed. It’s incredibly effective; she gains an instant rapport with the audience which guarantees that we are with her all the way – we feel her pain just as much as she does. You’d think this was a tough watch; but, actually, not a bit of it. Her characterisation of young Aminata is so delightful that we love spending time with her. It’s only that final, shocking scene that absolutely pulls you up sharp.

A recorded voice at the end provides some factual details about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation; at first, it seemed completely superfluous after the extraordinary emotion of that final scene. But actually it does serve a useful purpose to understand the myths and deceptions that are fed to the local people to make them comply with the barbarism. There was also a questionnaire that we were asked to complete, which did make you think again about the act directly after the play had finished, and was probably helpful in making the whole event educational as well as entertaining. And if it sounds bizarre to say the show was entertaining, then sobeit; I was hugely entertained by all the characters, the beautifully written script, and the whole presentation of the show. Admirable, brave, and superbly constructed, Miss Adejimi gives us a total tour de force. First class from start to finish. This little production deserves a life outside of this festival.

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