Matthew Warchus has declared an intention to make the Old Vic less safe and more unpredictable than it was during Kevin Spacey's tenure, though it brought a welcome stability and strong audiences to this fabled South London theatre. Warchus was himself part of that success, when he directed productions of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests and David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow there — the first transferred to Broadway, while the second starred Spacey.
But Warchus is going for even bolder colours — and he's doing so by expanding the number of productions and reducing the length of their runs, so it means that plays don't have to fill the theatre's 1,000 seats for 12 weeks anymore — a big ask — but can concentrate their audiences into shorter periods, much as the (far smaller) Donmar and Almeida do.
Its exciting to see him launch the place, then, not with some tried-and-trusted classic or star vehicle (though some of that is yet to come) but with a big, urgent contemporary play, that takes the pulse of something that affects each and every one of us, whether we're parents or not, namely the state of the British education system.
It's a huge subject, and playwright Tamsin Oglesby humanises it through a series of character portraits, from an exceptionally bright young orphaned former refugee from Pakistan making it to an interview for Balliol College (and having to face competition for the place from the privileged son of a college donor), to her former English teacher (played by Rob Brydon, in a sympathetic and warming performance) and parents (mostly mothers) at the school gates, who are trying to get their kids into the best secondary schools.
They kids aren't the only ones to have playground fights — the parents end up having one, too. So do the members of a rather earnest education committee, where the play starts to feel like a talking, walking Guardian comments section.
But Warchus keeps the arguments alive and constantly engaging thanks to the liveliness of his in-the-round production, with scenes punctuated by rock riffs from two teenage guitarists on either side of the stage. (It somehow made me think of School of Rock, Andrew Lloyd Webber's next musical based on the film of the same name, that opens on Broadway in December).
A swarming ensemble keep the stage busy, and you emerge having been provoked and challenged.
"Thanks to Warchus’s directorial slickness the evening makes the grade as a thought-provoking start to the season. Overall, though, I'd whisper "Could do better"."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"It's lively, disputatious, and full of clued-up, irreverent humour."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"The debates will be familiar to many of us. But Oglesby [Playwright] has given them new life in a fast and furious play that crackles with intellectual energy."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Future Conditional tries to use comedy and a cast of adults dressed in school uniforms to make sweeping points about the English education system. Playwright Tamsin Oglesby inveighs against academic selection and independent schools. She does so by giving us four scenarios so frequently chopped and changed that narrative flow is lost and the production starts to resemble a TV sketch show."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard