Tales of a City Girl

Future Conditional at the Old Vic

London has a huge cultural offering and no-where is this more apparent than in our theatres. If done well, theatre has the power to make us laugh, cry, and be inspired. I went with my uni friends to find out how many of those boxes Future Conditional ticks.

Future Conditional is a play about education and the frankly confusing maze of the British schooling system. The play looks at all different angles of a subject so important to many – the fraught, scooter-toting  mothers at the school gate trying to find the right school for their children; an idealistic teacher played by Rob Brydon;  Malala Yousafzai-a-like Alia,  a Pakistani refugee with a passion for education; and an educational policy board.

Anyone who has been a part of the education system in Britain, including those of us taught by it, will recognise at least some of the aspects here. Of course, they are all ramped up for being part of a theatre production, but the only farcical aspects here are the ones they want you to laugh at.

Each character was fully formed with their own motivations, feelings and desires, without overriding the whole play. One thing I particularly enjoyed was how it made you  change your own thoughts and sympathies with the characters so quickly.

An Oxbridge educated member of the educational policy board is painted as stuck-up, pompous and out-of-touch by one of the board’s northern, working-class members until he angrily calls him out for bullying him for his background. You feel strongly for the mother with strong moralistic values on equality and not putting her child unfairly above others, until one of the other mothers accuses her of sacrificing her child on the altar of her morals. This, I think, is the touch of a great play, if it can change your own allegiances back and forth so quickly.

The play is both laugh-out-loud funny and achingly sad.  The mothers disintegrate into fisticuffs as their competing opinions become too much; and there are lots of sparky one-liners from all the characters. Alia brings the perspective and the unwavering optimism for Britain’s educational system as does Rob Brydon’s character Mr Crane, who recalls the often-painful back story of one of his pupils in a scene which shows him dictating a letter he’s trying to write to her.

The one area I feel was slightly disingenuous of the play was how, at the end, Alia gets into Oxbridge. I was reading a review by Time Out on the play which mentions this and with retrospective, I’m inclined to agree. Her acceptance into the uni is a heartwarming pinnacle to end the play on. But, for a play which focuses on shaking up the education system, I wonder whether having her accepted reinforces where schoolchildren should be striving for post-school instead of showing something new.

Future Conditional is on at the Old Vic until October 3. We managed to nab great seats for £25 from lastminute.com

Image attribution: Me. I’m becoming quite the photographer, I’m sure you’d agree