As a child, I would often curl up on the sofa to watch Blind Date, a classic dating show in which a nice young lady asked three aspiring gentlemen searching questions under the watchful gaze of the late, great Cilla Black.
Unnatural Selection takes those cherished memories and casts them in a much bleaker light, introducing us to a world where population control has been achieved through a mandatory dating show called Select Me Out.
The premise is simple, four lucky ladies have to compete to the affection of a charming gentleman, each having only a couple of minutes to convince Mr Right they are they best option.
So far, so terrible, however this is not the worst element of an already warped scenario, if a contestant fails to be chosen three times in a row, they are whisked off to be ‘sterilised’.
Against this dystopian backdrop we are introduced to our four contestants, each desperate to be picked by the lucky bachelor.
Our first contestant is Esther, played by Katherine Thomas, an intelligent if slightly neurotic young lady who is on her final chance to be selected before being disqualified, her anxiety is palpable, both at not being selected, and that her intellect may actually be working against her.
It is very difficult to seem nervous onstage without it coming across as simply being nervous about being onstage, yet Thomas’ thin veneer of calm over a vast sea of anxiety makes for very powerful watching.
Next up is Bella, played by Natasha Grace Hutt, who is the epitome of privileged ignorance, quick to establish herself as the de facto leader of the group, she proceeds to befriend and belittle both Esther and Rhianna in equal measure, all while covering a hidden agenda.
Hutt truly inhabits the role, playing the little princess with gusto, while also giving weight to her deeper motivations, both delightfully air-headed and wickedly sharp.
In contrast to the last contestant, Nicky, played by Holly Connell-Wallace, seems the most human of the four, her most defining character trait being her belief in her own averageness.
Perhaps this is intended to highlight the persistent devaluing that women seem to undergo, constantly self criticizing for failure to reach standards set by society.
While at risk of being overshadowed by the more attention grabbing personalities of her fellow contestants, Connell-Wallace plays the role with a quiet intensity which is most engaging.
Last, but by no means least there is Rhianna, played by Masha Kevinova Waring, a hilariously over the top ladette with a penchant for popcorn who makes a concerted effort to steal the entire show in a barrage of crass comments.
Her initial interaction with Bella is excellent, especially for someone who hates the sound of chewing, and while some of her jokes don’t land perfectly, Kevinova-Waring’s enthusiasm is clear to see.
All four contestants are meant in some way to be stereotypes of the many issues women have to deal with in life, from some men being intimidated by intelligent women, to women attacking each other over their looks, or lifestyles or beliefs.
One of the most striking moments of the play was the point at which it was revealed that the men these women were ‘competing’ for were far from a prince charming, having no standards set upon them nor any chance of failure.
It is shocking to think that despite the dystopian setting of Unnatural Selection, nothing that is discussed is unimaginable in today’s world, and in many instances commonplace.
The fact that FGM is not a sudden act, but rather one that happens after a long period of coercion and reassurance is also cunningly depicted in the way the actual act goes unmentioned throughout the majority of the play.
The penalty for failing to be chosen on the show exists almost as an invisible entity, one that all the contestants are aware of yet terrified to confront, and a slight sense of hopelessness that even confronting this creature would do no good.
There are some things in life that are very difficult to handle with humour, so a dark comedy touching on the horrors of female genital mutilation may scare off more squeamish audience members.
However those made of sterner stuff will find a witty, thought provoking piece of theatre that will leave audiences glad that while reality TV may not be perfect, it’s certainly not as bad as it could be.
Unnatural Selection will be running at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from the 22nd to the 28th of August at 1 Grassmarket, Edinburgh.
All images courtesy of OPIA Theatre Company