thu 22/08/2019

Future Conditional, Old Vic | reviews, news & interviews

Future Conditional, Old Vic

Future Conditional, Old Vic

Provocative, punchy play about education and the dilemmas anxious parents face

Oh captain, my captain: Rob Brydon's Mr Crane inspires his pupils Manuel Harlan

Can we – should we – control the future? That’s the dilemma faced by anxious parents attempting to steer their offspring through a labyrinthine school system, educational think-tanks, and the teachers shaping young lives. Tamsin Oglesby’s play is an intriguing opener for the Matthew Warchus era: impassioned, fiercely topical, and – with its relatively youthful cast – kicking against the “old” in “Old Vic”. That, and electric guitars as rousing musical accompaniment. The school of rock is now in session.

With 23 actors and myriad thorny issues to service, Oglesby necessarily favours breadth over depth, but Warchus’s propulsive production sweetens the hasty homilies. The opening montage of ministerial speeches reaffirms the politicisation of education (appropriate, then, that Ed Miliband should be in the audience). But Oglesby – herself a parent tortured by the Kafkaesque system – is equally astute at teasing out the tribal prejudices shaping this discussion. No one can remain objective when it’s bound to our own choices and experiences.

Future Conditional, Old VicMalala Yousafzai-like Pakistani refugee Alia (a strong stage debut from Nikki Patel, pictured right), previously denied education because of both gender and class, lauds the life-altering empowerment of meritocratic learning – in contrast to her apathetic British peers. Its less rosy at the school gates, where parents gather to cast judgement upon one another’s gaming of the system, whether hiring tutors or making their child play an “endangered species” instrument like the euphonium. Guardian-reading Hettie (Lucy Briggs-Owen) contorts hilariously to defend her decision to go private, one devious couple fakes separation to cheat the postcode lottery, and liberal Suzy (Natalie Klamar), advocate for the troubled local school, must reconcile principle with self-interested parenting.

Meanwhile, a panel responding to Britain’s falling international standing deliberates options: more discipline or freedom; better meals or higher teacher pay; tweaks to the elitist status quo or radical new quotas and positive discrimination. At the coal face is Rob Brydon’s unflappable state school teacher, preaching independent thought and handily spelling out personal bias to an imaginary class – the latter an odd choice, given that the cast pops up in school uniform. Infamous bad boy Jordan thus remains an unseen case study.

Many of Oglesby’s characters suffer a similar fate, more debating points than people – and broad, if witty, takes at that. Brydon and Patel keep the saintly Mr Crane and Alia palatable, and there’s dynamic support from frenemy mums Briggs-Owen, Klamar and Sukh Ojla, Joshua McGuire and Brian Vernels warring ex-Etonian and charity chief, Ben Lloyd-Hughess dispassionate psychologist, and Louis Martins binge-eating statistician.

The notion of adults behaving like children is overemphasised, with both a playground brawl and food fight. Farce is played up to counter the inescapable didacticism. Still, if it speaks more to the head than heart, Oglesby’s piece revitalises both familiar issues and a familiar theatre. We may be “up the creek” as far as education is concerned, but at the Old Vic, the futures bright.

@mkmswain

Comments

What a mean review. Show me, do, a better piece of new writing for the stage about an issue of great relevance to our society? I was gripped from start to finish, it was brilliantly staged, a cast of actors who brought energy and terrific characterisation, and wonderful pacing. Three stars? Goodness, you are difficult to please. Good job you aren't a teacher

The review is mostly positive, Teresa, which is more than I can say for most other write-ups I've read. The play was very didactic, and for some that's a huge turn-off.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters