This is a play about “Education, education, education”, a subject we are all interested in; feel we know something about; have certainly all experienced. As pupils, parents, teachers, governors, we recognise its importance; the headaches, anguish and joy our schools provide and how difficult it is to choose the right school in the face of the apparent inequality of our education system. That is the subject matter of “Future Conditional” (the tense of a verb that few would recognise, except for the highly intelligent Alia), the Old Vic’s first production under the leadership of Artistic Director, Matt Warchus. It is a black comedy that studies the problems faced by a group of six mothers who have to find the right secondary schools for their children. It is a minefield of choices. Do they go to the local comprehensive that has a good reputation but is not in their catchment area? Do they go to the nearby comprehensive with the poor reputation? Do they invest in a private school? Do they attempt to win a music scholarship by giving their children lessons on the bassoon or euphonium?
Do they pay for a tutor who has access to all the past papers of the selective grammar school? Do they go onto a website that can print fake bills and council tax to help the family qualify for a school out of their area? So many questions, so much angst in the playground!
The play is performed in the round by a large, young, multi-talented cast who play the pupils, parents and the committee members who debate the education question. The production starts with the voice of Maggie Thatcher stridently demanding education for our children, followed by the voices of all our well known politicians, pledging devotion to our education system. Two electric guitarists stand, elevated on two sides of the stage, dressed in school uniform, playing loudly between scene changes as the cast run on stage to change the set whilst shouting as if they were in a playground. There are three scenarios in this play: the playground where six mothers gather at the school gate and discuss school places; the classroom, where the charismatic Mr Crane (Rob Brydon) teaches from the heart to his largely unresponsive pupils; the committee room where educators, psychologists, academics and theorists discuss the latest policy for education. A highly intelligent 16 year old refugee is invited to join the committee and there she sets forth the play’s manifesto: if there is to be fairness in education and in the allocation of university places there has to be change. She advocates a system in which all senior schools will be given two places for the top students for Oxbridge entry and then the next tier in every school will get the same number of places to the best universities. This is where the play becomes a political, hard-hitting demand for equality in education.
The star of the show is deservedly Rob Brydon who plays the wonderful Mr Crane. We all wish we had a teacher like him: he personifies all that is good in teaching and mesmerises us as he delivers his lessons to his classes and fights with the disinterested Jordan, every teacher’s arch nemesis. He responds to unseen and unheard pupils’ comments in a warm and witty manner and shows what all schools need – good teachers. Brydon played down the comedy, whilst being funny and making us laugh, and made his character real. His was the character with whom I felt the most sympathy, particularly when he was being forced to apologise to Jordan’s mother. Brydon was magnificent. The other stand out actor in this talented ensemble was Nikki Patel who played Alia, a refugee who came to England, aged 10, with no money, language, friends or family. She loved Britain and its education. In the manner of Malala Yousafzai, Alia revelled in learning and the opening scene showed her interview for Oxford in which she intelligently and expertly dealt with the analysis of a poem. Her love of learning and desire to teach others was touchingly played by Patel who demanded change: “Things will change.”
The lively disputes between the mothers, the warmth of Brydon’s Mr Crane and the fervour of Patel’s Alia made this an enjoyable and entertaining production but it did slip at times into a moralistic argument in committee among caricatures: the Etonian, the black Londoner, the angry Scottish socialist, the grammar school daughter with a father “in oil”, the fat and greedy numbers man. Overall, playwright Tamsin Oglesby (Really Old, Like Forty Five at the National) set forth her manifesto. She calls Britain’s social classes the “tribes” and through Alia’s character declares “Parents do not choose by logic, they choose by tribe…The tribe on top…wants to stay on top. You say you want to be fair but what is fair for one tribe is not fair for every tribe.”
You will certainly go home discussing your views of Alia’s premise, Mr Crane’s teaching and the fate of the six primary school children, and any play that leads to a heated after-show discussion deserves to be seen.
Review by Valerie Cochrane
The Old Vic presents Future Conditional, a bracingly topical and boisterously funny new play directed by Matthew Warchus and starring Rob Brydon, with a cast of 23 young performers.
Future Conditional tackles the conundrum of British schooling through a myriad of characters including parents, teachers, and Alia, a prodigiously clever young Afghan refugee and the newest member of Britain’s Education Research Board. Alia has a radical solution for Britain’s schools that could restore our place in the world education league. But is the system ready to take lessons from a schoolgirl..?
Booking to 3rd October 2015
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 2.30pm
Captioned Performance: Friday 18 September 7.30pm
Audio Described Performance: Friday 26 September 7.30pm
Thursday 17th September 2015