Unnatural Selection

Fri 5th – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Tanjil Rashid

at 12:36 on 20th Aug 2011

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Vampires have proven curiously ripe for cinematic inspiration. A staple of horror films in the pre-war era, including such classics as Nosferatu and Count Dracula, they were known for probing the seedy underbelly of a monstrous society. By no stroke of coincidence were both these films so popular at the height of the most infamous economic downturns in their respective countries, Germany and the USA. But over time the aesthetic qualities of such classics gave way to fetishistic gore-mongering and vulgar kitsch, which characterises the latest fad for the vampire underworld – look no further than the lucrative Twilight film franchise.

But Boris Mitkov’s Unnatural Selection is a ravishing revision for the stage of a much-maligned and mocked inspiration. His highly original script recreates a vampire underworld of criminalised creatures hiding on the margins of society. Yet there is nothing quite so vulgar as a two-dimensional opposition between humans and vampires. The vampires’ lust for blood mirrors humankind’s insatiable lust for economic growth and technological expansion. The humans regard themselves as morally superior to the vampires, but is this a mere mythic smokescreen to guise their amoral instincts? Is the parasitic vampiric existence the logical extension of humanity’s own means of existence? As Thomas O’Connell’s intoxicatingly brilliant High Councillor (of the vampire high council) proclaims, “We vampires are just top of the food chain.”

A further cinematic influence is apparent in the most original aspect of the script: a political conspiracy that unravels backwards over time, a structure well-known from such movies as Christopher Nolan’s Memento, but largely unknown on the stage. Mitkov’s deft dénoument divulges a thoroughly unexpected twist. I’m not quite sure what it means, but that is precisely the point. Empson famously talked about seven types of ambiguity. Mitkov’s script has at least a hundred. This is all the more to be appreciated at the Edinburgh fringe, where every other play is a student production that so vulgarly makes clear what it’s about. Resisting the temptation to create a smart, simple allegory out of his concept, Mitkov plasters layers and layers of multifarious meanings over the plot, leaving the audience dazed and confused – in a good way.

Every member of the cast deserves special mention for their authentic acting. How one can bring authenticity to the lives of vampires I do not know, but Thomas O’ Connell, Matthew Plumb, Andrew Kinsler, Eilieh Muir, Max Wilson and Rosie Orchison all certainly did, without turning their performances hammy, as lesser actors might have done. Mitkov’s direction and choice of music avoided cliché, and the fast-paced use of strobe lighting during the fight scenes was a breath-taking touch that one really must see to believe. Much like the play itself.

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Dominic Sowa

at 14:50 on 20th Aug 2011

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In the post twilight world we live in, it seems that any play with a semblance of reference to vampires in any guise, risks the possibility of being disregarded as a mere fad following fashion pandering example of unoriginal theatre. Boris Mitkov, who’s Unnatural Selection premiers at the Fringe and is performed by the Wavelength Theatre Company, seems to be well aware of this. Unnatural Selection tries to be more Memento than Twilight; focusing on issues of memory, loss and the breakdown of relations than it does on what it means to be a vampire.

The play aims to be a philosophical exploration of issues of immorality, yet it falls short of such high pretensions. The most salient feature of the play is the poorly written script that, unfortunately for the cast, overshadows a well acted performance. The play’s structure is based upon the unchronological form found in Christopher Nolan’s Memento, where the audience is forced to piece together the story in the same manner as the characters. As interesting as this approach is, it is completely useless and thus becomes a theatrical inconvenience because the audience fills in the blanks too early in the show leading to little plot suspense and a rather general frustration at the tedious machinations of the play.

The prominence of film as an influence is significant in the fast pacing of the play. Scenes dart quickly across the stage, strobe lights and visually interesting fight/action scenes appear in between longer scenes giving the play a sense of immediacy and vibrancy. However, though these elements may be impressive, particularly with a well organised backing soundtrack, this only made the crux of the play, the story of the pair of vampires searching for answers, feel hurried and underdeveloped.

The dramatic story at the heart of the play, the struggle of the leads to come to terms with their existence as vampires turned ‘illegally’ which saving their lives yet making them un-dead, is not prominent enough. Too much attention has been given to creating a believable situation of a vampire underworld in cahoots with the human world’s governments. As thorough as this has left contextual elements of the piece, the characterisations and emotional depth of characters have been left unsatisfactorily underdeveloped. As a result characters spend too much time explaining the details of the world they occupy, rather than actually drawing us into their experiences of it.

The acting is generally satisfactory and the drama school credentials of the cast are evident. Mark Wilson as the Archive and Councillor gives an interesting performance. Eileih Muir, as the female lead, gives a moving and tender performance that is frequently let down by the staleness and overt saccharine quality of her relationship with fellow lead, Matthew Plumb who plays her partner.

The actors have done the best they can with a poor script and that is evident. The play gets bogged down in an unnecessary focus on the contextual elements of the performance rather than the central emotional tale. Though the idea itself is interesting and promising, the play requires a rewrite for it seems wholly unsuited for a stage production at its present stage.

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