Park Theatre, London – until 27 October 2018
A play about female genital mutilation is never going to be an easy watch but I particularly was drawn to Bullet Hole to better understand the culture and tradition that supports it, particularly in a 21st-century Western context.
Gloria Williams’ play is set in London and focuses on three women. Aunt Winnie (Anni Domingo) is an African matriarch who follows and instigates the traditional practices; Eve (Doreene Blackstock) is a British African woman who has been cut but sits on the fence about its rights and wrongs and Cleo (Gloria Williams) is a young British African woman who has been cut and stitched is regularly assaulted by her husband and wants a reversal.
Cleo is sent to live with Aunt Winnie, where Eve finds her traumatised and broken. She becomes a sort of buffer between Cleo and Aunt Winnie, having a foot in both camps. Through their conversations, we learn of the physical and mental impact of FGM.
Cleo feels unwhole, damaged and ugly and suffers numerous physical health problems as the result of having her genitals mutilated and her husband forcing her to have sex. Living in London she’s exposed to a different culture and different outlook on relationships, she wants to be like her friends, be pain-free and enjoy sex in a loving relationship.
Eve has her own health issues and desperately wants a child but her husband won’t sleep with her, ostensibly because of the pain and bleeding that involves for both of them. She romanticises her mutilation, recalling the sound of drums at the time it was carried out but her dream of a home, husband and two children hasn’t materialised and it is the chink in her armour.
The language used around FGM if not starkly masculine – Cleo is told to man up at one point – describes a practice born out of patriarchy.
Winnie might believe that is it a celebration of female strength and power but it is a false power.
It is about protecting their image in the eyes of men, a woman’s role is to be beautiful, to please men so that they will get them pregnant.
(L-R) Doreene Blackstock (Eve) and Gloria Williams (Cleo) in Bullet Hole, Park Theatre. Photo: Lara Genovese for Naiad Photography
The irony being that FGM significantly increases the risks to mother and baby during childbirth.
While there is no doubting the plays anti-FGM message, Winnie isn’t painted as an outright villain, she isn’t untouched by the suffering FGM causes.
Illegality only a passing threat
The illegality of FGM in the UK is only a passing threat in the narrative, a minor point of tension compared to Cleo’s western viewpoint.
But given Cleo’s stance, what I did find slightly perplexing is why she stays with Winnie and Eve; she mentions having a job and friends – a life outside the flat – but it is just passing comment.
Bullet Hole is brave in its exposure of FGM and the culture around it and it feels like a starting point for a wider narrative.
Bullet Hole is at the Park Theatre until 27 October and is 90 minutes without an interval.