Review: Dishonour (Edinburgh Fringe, online)

One of the strongest pieces of this year’s online Edinburgh Fringe, Dishonour is extremely distressing but essential viewing, on the difficult topic of female circumcision, or female genital mutilation.

Babe is looking forward to her fifth birthday: her parents are immigrants from a tribal tradition but have always felt the need to discard harmful practices.

A year after her mother has died, Babe lives with her father, a doctor who is well used to dealing with the ramifications of FGM on women, and her father’s aunt, a deeply traditional woman who thinks it is a woman’s destiny to obey her male relatives.

Written and directed by Terrence Turner, and performed by Mimi Ndiweni (who plays all six characters we see), Dishonour does not pull any punches when detailing the torture archaic custom inflicts on young girls.

This is an uncomfortable watch, especially the scenes where Babe, playing with her doll or skipping with joy at the thought of the presents she might get, filters everything through her innocent view of the world. You don’t see anything, but you don’t need to.

Promotional image for Dishonour

The main action cuts between a radio show, on which Babe’s father has agreed to appear to argue against FGM, and his aunts desperate plotting to uphold the honour of her tribe’s customs.

Dishonour nevers tries to justify why older women in these cuktures seek to mutilate those they love, often without medical intervention and almost as a spectator spor. Remember, this still happens to children who are just old enough to go to school.

It does acknowledge that women “are defined by reproduction”, and seen as not just submissive and subservient to men, but also as disposable as branded cattle or other possessions.

Ndiweni’s performance(s) are excellent throughout, from Babe herself to her auntie, her babysitter, and the radio host. With just slight vocal shifts and a difference in stance, she pirtrays both the mental and physical attributes of the characters.

Turner makes a powerful case for change which echoes a vocal campaign from women living with the effects of FGM. I was rather startled that a man wrote this with such measured anger and compassion; it never becomes distasteful, but says enough to educate.

Fringe rating: *****

You can stream Dishonour on the Fringe Player at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe until the end of August: buy your ticket here.