Friday, 2 October 2015

Theatre Review: Future Conditional

(Image: The Old Vic)

It seems that new artistic director Matthew Warchus has brought a fresh pair of eyes to the stage of The Old Vic with his direction of Tamsin Oglesby’s energetic and topical new play Future Conditional. Focused on the troubles of the British schooling system, it couldn’t be any more relevant in the light of recent changes made by the government to education. But this is no lecture on politics: whilst making the audience question issues of society and morality, Future Conditional remains a lighthearted, fun piece of theatre that will appeal to any and all who know anything about British education.

Future Conditional confronts the problems of the British education system through the characters of parents, the Education Commission and 16-year-old Pakistani refugee Alia. It forces us to ask significant questions about our society: is our schooling system fair? Do private school kids have an advantage? And most importantly, are the government’s improvements to education in the best interests of children?

With audio clips played of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Michael Gove discussing the British education system as the play opens, it is clear from the outset that this is going to be a political play. There is no aspect of British education that Oglesby leaves untouched: from the private versus state dilemma to the postcode lottery, she discusses everything, which is sure to make a few audience members shift guiltily in their seats. But whilst no stone is left unturned, the dialogue isn’t preachy, which can easily be done when discussing social issues. Oglesby has managed to create a well-rounded discussion about the system the majority of us have been in at some point or another, so everyone can identify with at least one of the issues raised. The play is formed of three main narratives: Alia’s former state school teacher Mr Crane struggling to control his class, a group of mothers in a primary school playground trying to manipulate the catchment area system to their advantage, and Alia being accepted onto the rather inept Education Commission who can’t agree on how best to make children happy at school. The oscillating between these different scenes shows the different sides of the argument and keeps the play exciting and fast-paced.

The cast is large with 23 actors and two musicians, but this only adds to the energetic feel of the performance and the characters are surprisingly well developed given the number of them. This said, there are some standout performances: namely from Lucy Briggs-Owen as yummy mummy Hettie who fears judgement for sending her son to private school and Joshua McGuire, an Old Etonian who laments the rather first world problem of being an “acceptable prejudice” in society as a private school alumnus. Rob Brydon is also strong as Mr Crane, whose performance is delivered almost entirely in monologue as he addresses imaginary children on the stage. The choice not to have any children in a play about the schooling system is a bold but extremely effective one.

Oglesby has achieved the perfect balance of politics and humour, poignancy and tension by making what could’ve been a dry or controversial subject for a play original, witty and thought provoking. There is a collective sense of pride throughout the audience as Alia tells the Education Commission, “I can succeed” – something the people in the education system should be made to feel. My only regret is that the play isn’t on for longer.

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