Natural Selection

Paul Rigel Jenkins
Whippet Productions
Theatre 503

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Theatre 503 is well attended on this gorgeous hot day in the capital; the impressive attendance is a strong commendation of the play we are about to see.

The stage design is simple, black (or could be navy) with what at first sight appears to be a white horizontal strip of paint - in fact a cupboard filled with various props.

The lighting dramatically drops to blackness and ceremonial (even patriotic) music with trumpets blares from the speakers.

As the lights take focus a puzzling scene awaits the audience: a scruffy haired man speaking Welsh sits sifting through black sand with his feet in a hole.

Rigel Jenkins presents us with a potentially dystopian view of what the future may hold for England and Wales, newly christened the Home Country and West Anglia.

Each scene is layered upon the next, evoking an ever more complicated and deeper web and creating an irresistible flow from one exchange to the next.

Alan Beckett is brilliantly cast as the blundering Joseph. On the surface this character is a simpleton who is ridiculed and manipulated by his brother Vlad. Ultimately, however, Joseph is the character with the most depth, who at the end of the play makes an empowered and independent decision.

Scene eighteen presents an increasingly intense conversation between Fenella (Pandora Colin) and Mr Brain (Alan Cox), which boils over to a heated public exchange of insults in a well-executed performance from both actor and actress.

Lisa Diveney however steals the show with a fantastic performance as the sexy and wily Mash.

Daniel Rigby presents an interesting twist on what it means to be a terrorist as the angry and destructive Vlad, effectively demonstrating the aggression and impotence of a sidelined minority.

Natural Selection provokes debate around race and racial prejudices, with an interviewer telling Mr Brain his daughter was murdered in a racist attack. When shown a photograph of the child Mr Brain responds,"but she's white."

"Let's not be racist about racism, Mr Brain," is the curt reply.

This play provides plentiful examples of xenophobia and violent suspicion of the "other," perhaps echoing the concerns of an increasingly organised extreme right- wing political influence here in the UK.

The play doesn't limit itself to commenting on just the UK; it also taps into the suspicion of the concept of the global village, presenting us with characters that strongly resist the colonisation of global brands and economic powers.

Natural Selection could be read as a metaphor for any troubled part of the world resisting the increasing Americanisation of the globe. In this case it is the fictional location of West Anglia, but could easily be Afghanistan or Iraq.

But Riger Jenkins' play has more to say than just political commentary. Through his characters he explores identity and its fragmented and uncertain nature in contemporary society.

This is a well thought out piece of theatre, compellingly written and executed.

Running until 31st May

Reviewer: Eva Ritchie

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