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Cuttin’ It

The following post contains spoilers.

From George Orwell to Russell T Davies, I count left-wing writers among some of my heroes. But my goodness, I wish there were more right-wing ones, for diversity’s sake.

It’s tedious, being bashed over the head with right-on messages as if there’s something edgy about it. Well, here’s a newsflash, folks: this isn’t 1987. In the culture wars, lefties have held sway since the days of Ben Elton and his sparkly suit.

I mean, just off the top of my head:

  • There’s a case to be made – see Brendan O’Neill and Milo Yiannopoulis – that left-wing authoritarians pose a clear and present danger to free speech. From university safe spaces to tweeters being dragged before the courts, dramatists are missing one of the biggest stories of our age.
  • Could we ever see a TV drama about a British apostate from Islam, shunned by their family and community and threatened with violence by extremists? I doubt it, somehow. Not after the BBC shelved The London Bombers, a serial on the 7/7 attacks, citing fears it might be ‘Islamophobic’.
  • In 1978, the BBC made Law & Order, a devastating expose of corruption in Scotland Yard and the legal system. Will it ever turn the spotlight on the NHS, given the failings in Mid Staffs? I’m not holding my breath.

In the theatre, too, it seems that politics must be safe, conformist and PC. That there’ll be no hard questions. That no matter what the subject is, I’ll be subjected to the usual leftie platitudes.

So imagine my surprise when I saw Cuttin’ It at the Young Vic in London the other week. It’s a brilliant, heartbreaking, brutally honest play about female genital mutilation among Somalis in Britain, and it doesn’t pull its punches for a moment.

Charlene James’s play (which, to be fair to the BBC, was first heard on Radio 4 and won ‘Best Single Drama’ at the BBC Audio Drama Awards 2016) is the story of two girls, Muna (Adelayo Adedayo) and Iqra (Tsion Habte).

Muna, who escaped Somalia as a young child, seems like a typical, cocky British teenager. But as her sister turns seven, she is desperate to stop her mother taking the child to Africa for ‘cutting’.

Iqra, by contrast, is a more recent arrival and has secrets of her own. I won’t say too much, but the message James drives home is like a punch in the gut:  that this unimaginably horrific abuse is now widespread in the UK, and spreading across our cities.

I must confess, though, that I’m a little confused by some of James’s interviews. “We must stop saying it’s a cultural thing: it’s child abuse,” she tells the London Evening Standard, while urging readers not to demonise their mothers.

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Maybe I’m missing something here. They’re ruining their daughters’ lives, but we need to take a touchy-feely approach?

The NSPCC estimates 23,000 girls under 15 could be at risk. And what’s the authorities’ response? One (unsuccessful) prosecution.

In terms of harm done, this is Jimmy Savile multiplied by a thousand. Yet in the cult of self-regard that is the British left, no one seems particularly bothered.

Bravo, then, to Charlene James. Her play offers few solutions, but I hope she’s shocked theatregoers out of their complacency.

Cuttin’ It runs until 11 June at the Young Vic, then moves to Birmingham Repertory Theatre (14-18 June), London’s Royal Court Theatre (23 June – 13 July), Sheffield Crucible (20-23 July) and The Yard Theatre, London (26-30 July)

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