Free for All

Free For All is a very clever verse play with a strong political slant, exploring the ideas of choice and social responsibility. It is set in Water's Edge Academy – an elite, free school, which is set up with corporate sponsorship rather than government funding. We are invited to the ‘open evening’ of the new school, where its shiny new facilities and open-access ideologies are paraded out for us all, in order to attract the very best of students to join.

As the actors run through rhythm and rhyme, you feel the verse form adding a layer of impact to the manifestos being put forward.

The play debates the nature of the comprehensive system, the role of the press and the significance of privilege in society. Three sets of parents, each with their own child and agenda to push, are welcomed to the school by the smoothly charismatic headmaster, Torben Krill. While parenting techniques and generational differences create conflict between the children and their parents, judgements about class and differing political beliefs trigger arguments between the families.

The futuristic, ultra-modern world of the play is complemented by video game analogies and forays into virtual reality. Some very precise points are made this way, for example: 'you can't respawn if you're unlucky.'

The evening is then hijacked by the ghost of Anthony Crosland (the 1960s Labour education minister) and the play descends into an increasingly complex web of policies and blackmail. The result is a demonstration of the potential mess of our future society. There are some lovely moments, such as when the child genius, Starfish, becomes overwhelmed and is found quietly rocking herself back and forth amongst the chaos. Such moments illustrate the fact that even the high-achieving can be left behind.

Free For All is written by Richard O'Brien in a variety of verse structures. It is immensely enjoyable to hear a play written this way be spoken out loud. As the actors run through rhythm and rhyme, you feel the verse form adding a layer of impact to the manifestos being put forward. I do feel, however, that the actors could have made more of the poetic form of the script.

There are some distracting moments that detract from the play, such as the appearance of a French character with a secret sex tape, and an unfortunately childish haunting. Furthermore, while a vast range of issues are touched upon – such as sexism in industry, the workings of unions, the definition of anarchy and the welfare state – it feels as though the play is taking on a bit too much by merely mentioning, rather than addressing, any of these issues.

Reviews by Cara Ballingall

C venues - C nova

Inglorious Insinuations of Insanity

★★
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

Free for All

★★★
Greenside @ Infirmary Street

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Two Thirds

★★★
Underbelly, Cowgate

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★★★

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Performances

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The Blurb

How far would you go to get the best for your children? When ageing activist Barry is persuaded to attend an open evening at a new free school, he discovers he's not the only parent making sacrifices. But why is Martha's father so against her getting what she wants: a competitive skillset and a life she can afford? The socialist ghost wreaking havoc on the interactive whiteboard might have some answers. Choice, control and the death of post-war utopia in this darkly comic verse-play from prize-winning poet Richard O'Brien, directed by Sydney Theatre Award winner Rebecca Martin.

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