Future Conditional at the Old Vic
Taking over from Kevin Spacey, Matthew Warchus launches his artistic director tenure with a roaringly funny play about the UK’s hugely divisive education system. Written by Tamsin Oglesby and based on her own agonising experience of the postcode lottery, Future Conditional shouts loudly and clearly about the farcicality that veils UK schooling.
From frenemy mothers who are happy to sharpen their claws when it comes to getting their offspring into their preferred school, to grade-factory education and hypocritical distortions over private schools and academy selections, Oglesby tells it as it is. “It’s how you avoid fundamentalism,” says Alia (Nikki Patel), the play’s central character, when arguing that a public school in the UK is really a private fee-paying one.
Although Rob Bryden is the headliner as Alia’s calm, likeable English teacher who wrestles with the growing issues plaguing state schools, Patel’s debut performance at the Old Vic is the highlight, together with Warchus’ formidably lively production. She is everything necessary of Oglesby’s protagonist: bright, forthright and innocent. Her refugee status and gratitude for any sort of education make her ideas about making the British system fairer even more profound.
Joshua McGuire is hilarious as Oliver, a plummy Etonian who goes head-to-head with Bill, superbly played by Brian Vernal, a working-class northerner who fiercely opposes the class privilege embedded in the system.
Class divisions also emerge between the mothers with Lucy Briggs-Owen brilliantly portraying a middle-class mum who has no qualms about cheating the system or opting for private education in order to secure the best for her child, regardless of the price, and Natalie Klamar as her socialist opposite. Both conflicts play themselves out in rib-tickling slapstick scenes.
Oglesby and Warchus inject a fresh charge of super smart energy into familiar debates and issues in this hugely entertaining and witty play. It’s an intelligent choice for the launch of a new era at the Old Vic and signals an intent to take it back to its cutting edge roots.