Director Alex Crampton

Why do you think FGM goes under the radar in the UK?

It’s down to our lax legislation: there are too many holes. British Kenyans are clinics’ biggest customers. In this country there is a race concern within the law – how do we differentiate between cosmetic surgery and FGM? Is it a black and white issue? In Kenya women are taking legal action, protecting themselves. Here, FGM can be a way of gaining control of culture, tradition and community. Western populations need to be involved in this conversation.

What does Little Stitches mean to you?

It has meant increasing amounts as time has gone on. I didn’t understand the physical reality and complexity of FGM before. The play’s humanising, flesh and blood relevance has moved [FGM] from being something one should be aware of to a civic responsibility. [With the play] I want to remove negativity and shame, and deal with this problem in a long-lasting way.

How did this sensitive subject matter first capture your imagination?

An African film, Moolaade, captured my attention. It brings the tensions of the practice to the surface, with ancient rites and a sense of the sacred, which is so alien to my culture. There’s so much acute pain in the physicality of FGM and I’m still informing myself of it.

How is it working trying to create such a powerful piece of theatre?

We’ve spent a lot of time building up openness and trust. It’s tough, but engaging and empathetic. I’m so happy with the casting, everyone’s so motivated by the aims of the project. The hardest part is the emotional process and reining in the impassioned discussions. We’re trying to keep it as concrete as possible, and to ground it when we veer off into discursive territory.

What are you bringing to the mix?

A stripped down production, in terms of movement and set. Characterisation is at the forefront, with detailed digging behind the media front line. Too much silence – even within families, between mothers and daughters – around FGM perpetuates the tradition, fermenting resentment in this unspoken traumatic experience. We’re trying to make this everyone’s business.

Little Stitches is at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL from 29-30 August

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