Unnatural Selection by Boris Mitkov – review

Published in Edfringereview

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.