Thanks to the school calendar, September always seems to transmit the tingle of a fresh start. And lo, here we have Matthew Warchus inaugurating his first season at the helm of the Old Vic with Tamsin Oglesby's play about the challenges of trying to make the English educational system fairer. Warchus is an immensely talented, versatile director and just the right man for this job. So I wish I could extend a wholehearted welcome to Future Conditional.
It's lively, disputatious, and full of clued-up, irreverent humour. Rob Brydon is the headliner but Warchus's in-the-round production is a vibrant company effort with a large cast who infuse this venerable venue with young blood. The piece flits around three strands and, to me, sometimes felt like a host of punchily-raised issues in search of a properly satisfying play. It doesn't have the focused heft of the recent Little Platoons or A Level Playing Field, which concentrated on the debate about free schools and grade-factory education, respectively.
Brydon plays a teacher in Hastings whose lessons demonstrate by spirited example what it is to think for oneself. His witty retorts to unseen pupils have a touch of Joyce Grenfell's “George-- don't do that”. He has a gifted student, Alia, a Pakistani refugee (beautifully played by Nikki Patel) whom we see being interviewed for Oxford in the flash-forward first scene.
She is co-opted as the pupil-member on a government commission on educational equality. Here her suggestion that you could start genuine mobility if the top universities were to offer places to the top three students of every school in the country, regardless of grades. ruffles the feathers of this class-bound group – a thought-experiment that exposes their prejudices. It's an implicit rebuke, too, to the mothers who meet daily in the playground in the third strand that derives black, rueful comedy from the cheating, ingenious lengths to which parents will go to secure a place at their preferred state school.
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