Rites at Contact theatre, preview: Hidden practices, on stage

Polly Checkland Harding
Three women hold flowers in their hands

With uneasy subject matter at its heart, Rites tells a story that’s not easy to hear – but crucial to listen to.

“Let us start by listening” – Rites, 2015. It’s estimated that over 66,000 women and girls in Britain are living with the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM – underestimated, frighteningly, because this is an issue that, by definition, is hidden. FGM is illegal in the UK, and yet over 20,000 girls under 15 years of age are thought to be at risk. Yes, the NHS Choices page on Female Genital Mutilation (or FGM) does make for grim reading; but this, and a brand new production from Contact in Manchester and the National Theatre of Scotland, which explores this deep-rooted cultural practice, is where more attention needs to be.

Rites will have to tread a careful line between understanding and outrage

If we’re unclear about how many women are affected, or at risk, then finding ways to hear their voices is surely a priority. Rites, created by Olivier Award-winning director Cora Bissett and multi-talented writer Yusra Warsama, is based on true stories from women and girls affected in Scotland and the rest of the UK – including mothers under pressure to continue the practice, the experiences of midwives, and those who are trying to combat it. Rites is a way of shedding light on an ancient ritual to which millions of girls worldwide are still subjected – for reasons that are incredibly complex – despite the horrifying health implications that include chronic infection, kidney failure, infertility, organ damage and sometimes death.

“We hope to ask questions of practices contained within many cultures,” says Bissett, “and give space to discuss those very sensitive areas where cultural practice and human rights come into direct conflict.” This is a production, then, that will have to tread a careful line between understanding and outrage. I’ll admit that my gut reaction to reading that FGM most often takes place with no medical training, anaesthetic or antiseptics, so that “girls may have to be forcibly restrained” while some or all of their clitoris and labia is cut off doesn’t, initially, leave much room for accepting the motivations behind it. But, as the script entreats, “let us start by listening” – so that where the law is failing, perhaps better comprehension through projects like Rites might have more success.

Culture Guides

Backyard Cinema


It only takes a quick glance at the film listings to realise that Christmas is coming, and quick. We’ve rounded up some of our festive highlights alongside standout seasons and festivals.


Pause in the hustle and bustle of festive prep to take in some inspiration from this month’s top exhibitions.

Manchester Christmas Parade


It’s the most wonderful time of the year and Manchester is bursting with fun, family activities to keep the kids entertained in the run up to Christmas!

Writer Nicholas Royle. Photo by Zoe McLean


There are spooky stories, Christmas crime thrillers and plenty of books for stocking fillers as December unfolds and Manchester and the wider North region switches on the live literature lights.


The festive season is here, and whether you want to escape it or embrace it, we’ve got you covered.

Theatre in Manchester and the North


Contemporary cabaret, powerful monologues and world premiere musicals. Our theatre guide spans the festive season and beyond.

Classical Music in Manchester and the North

We preview the standout classical music events and venues in Manchester and the north.

Food and Drink

Explore the best restaurants and bars in Manchester and the North for autumn.

Tours and Activities

We’re deep into Autumn now but don’t let that stop you from finding a new tour or activity to get stuck into.

Things to do right now

Powered by culturehosts
Cinema Until 8 December 2022, from £7.95

Aftersun at HOME

Elizabeth Gaskell's House garden. Photo by Chris Tucker
Literature Until 11 December 2022, from £4.50

Book sale at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

Cinderella at Hope Mill Theatre
Families Until 11 December 2022, from £27.00

Cinderella at Hope Mill Theatre

Music Until 17 December 2022, from £5

RNCM Autumn Season

Melissa Wan
Literature Until 17 December 2022, from £7

Ghosts at the Old Library

Flecky Bennett’s HALLOWEEN 2018 Ghost Walk
Activity Until 17 December 2022, from £15

Flecky Bennett’s Ghost Walks

Star of Wonder at Theatre Porto
Families Until 21 December 2022, from £0.00

Star of Wonder at Theatre Porto

Cinema Until 22 December 2022, from £20.00

Backyard Cinema