The Theatreguide.London Review
Old Vic Theatre Autumn 2015
In writing an issue play, about the problems of schools and education in Britain today, Tamsin Oglesby attempts to cover all the bases. But that comprehensiveness is both the play's strength and its weakness, largely because we can see all the bases being methodically covered. The play's machinery is sometimes more evident than its content.
Oglesby follows four rarely-intersecting strands. In a committee room somewhere a government group try to hammer out a report recommending improvements to the education system. At a primary school gates a group of mothers worry about their children getting into good (or local, or any) secondary schools.
An inventive and dedicated teacher does his thing in front of some largely invisible students. And a Pakistani girl, awed by the discovery that Britain not only allows but encourages education for girls, is determined to swallow it all.
Each of those plot lines enable the playwright to explore one aspect or another of her subject. But it's all a little too bald and obvious to be satisfying theatre.
The committee is there to allow for a load of exposition as they run through Britain's place on the international league tables, theories of why Finland ranks higher, and the like – and then later, when things start getting personal, to remind us of the lifelong effects of the gap between Eton-Oxbridge graduates and the others.
The mothers' scenes will remind you of American World War Two movies in which every platoon had one guy from Brooklyn, one from Texas, one minority, and so on. There's an Essex girl, a posh woman, a lefty, a just-hanging-on-to-middle-class woman and a Muslim – and the obviousness with which that selection has been made makes it difficult to believe in any of them or listen to what they have to say.
We do get the point that there aren't enough spaces in upper schools, but the human stories, of the parents who manipulate the system to get their kid into a good private school and then can't afford it, or of the lefty who has to compromise her ideals when a posh school spot does open for her daughter, barely register because the women never became anything more than types.
I won't belabour the point except to say that both the teacher and the Pakistani girl are written as plaster saints, perfect symbols of the perfection they stand for, but never real people.
There is nothing wrong with Future Conditional that just one touch of originality or realism couldn't fix, and some credit has to be given to those who attempt to bring the play or characters alive, however minimal their success.
Director Matthew Warchus keeps things moving and injects some vitality at least into the changeovers between scenes (to the attractive rock music of two guitarists). Rob Bryden brings his considerable charm and comic timing to the teacher, and Nikki Patel makes the girl always interesting if never real.
Future Conditional, and this production, are polished professional machines. You may well learn some facts and figures, you are likely to have some of your class prejudices and biases confirmed, and you will be intermittently entertained.
You will have difficulty believing a minute of it, or caring.
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