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Review of Opia Theatre’s Unnatural Selection

Unnatural SelectionThere’s no dramatis personae provided for the audience at Unnatural Selection, itself a statement about how people, and arguably younger ladies in particular, are under pressure to conform to what is considered appropriate conduct. But more than that, this show puts forward the idea of a future dystopia in which population control is conducted by a method that is utterly unnecessary and potentially harmful to women’s health.

I personally found it difficult to actually envisage a situation, except in a completely undemocratic and totalitarian regime, in which female genital mutilation would be official Government policy. A quick read through the page on the NHS website on FGM is crystal clear: “All women and girls have the right to control what happens to their bodies and the right to say no to FGM.” Perhaps this inability to suspend disbelief to the extent that the play demands stems from living in a country where it is a criminal offence to perform FGM, but I contend that the use of a primetime game show as a backdrop is simply not the ideal vehicle to highlight such very serious and important issues.

I do understand the dramatic licence used here, adding layers of light-heartedness as comic relief from the foreboding future ordeal that may or may not materialise for any of the four ladies in a waiting room preparing to go on a Saturday night dating show not entirely dissimilar to ITV’s Take Me Out (I confess to having seen the odd episode). But the toilet humour from Rhianna (no, not that one) came across as wildly incongruous. I took umbrage not so much with the content of what was said, but more that the play felt it necessary to talk about ‘down below’ in such a superficial manner whilst at the same time addressing FGM.

Elsewhere, at times the Esther character, uptight and intense, speaks very eloquently, to the point where it made me think of Jeremy Paxman, who once plainly said to a guest on BBC’s Newsnight Review who rambled on and on, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But at least this play looks at more than one topic: there’s a thought exploration, for instance, of the proliferation and ubiquity of social media, and whether it is better to be truthful or tactful.

There’s the expected awkward moments between people who have only just met, but there’s sufficient character development as they get to know one another. A painfully irritating misquoting of Ernest Hemingway – of a statement that has never, in any event, been definitively and officially verified as being his, exposed at least one of the characters as being up their own backside. I found the criticisms of feminism as too sweeping and stereotypical, and frankly bizarre, particularly in an all-female production.

A greater effort could have been made to distinguish what specific elements of feminist thought are objectionable, and why.

The four actors clearly work well together in a production that does indeed “challenge, question and push boundaries”, and the one-act play in a single room provides a full hour of continuous action and the full range of human emotion. Completing the quartet are Nicky and Bella, the former a quiet lady relative to the latter’s talkative nature. I can’t help thinking that a bit of research into some real-life FGM stories – goodness me, there are too many of them – and dramatizing those in some way, either through a series of monologues or a group session, might have had more impact.

As it is, this is a confident and wide-ranging production, and those who enjoy shows like Take Me Out might well find this play to be a useful vehicle through which to consider the concerns it ultimately raises.

Three and a half gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

OPIA Theatre Company takes its brand new play, Unnatural Selection, to Theatre N16 in August 2016. With a cast of four, Unnatural Selection explores a world of damaged women, where sexuality is a crime.

A dark, political comedy questioning the world in which we live; Four women, four rivals, imprisoned in a waiting room, moments before they go on National Television. The drab waiting room becomes a battleground of desperation and fierce competition for the unrepresented. Each character is pushed to confront her worst flaws, with an ending to play on the minds of the audience. Unnatural Selection slides between poignant humour and harsh reality.

Formed by four Guildford School of Acting graduates, OPIA Theatre Company sets out to voice issues that aren’t spoken about in the Western World. Or, are spoken too much about that people completely brush them aside as an issue.

Unnatural Selection speaks candidly to the audience about many issues, most importantly, Female Genital Mutilation – an issue that has been on a shocking increase around the world, in particularly London. OPIA feel it’s important that FGM isn’t just labelled as one culture’s problem; it’s the whole world’s problem.

1st and 2nd August, 7pm
Theatre N16, Balham
Book Tickets – £12, £10 (Concession)
Running Time: 50 minutes
Suitable for 15+
http://www.theatren16.co.uk/