When I first did the Fringe, back in 2015 (only two years ago but so much has happened since then I feel like at least half a different person) there were three or four shows out of the fourteen I saw that really wowed me, and have stuck with me ever since.
1972: The Future of Sex, by the Wardrobe ensemble was one such show. I saw it again when the tour came to Plymouth and it remains one of the most impressive pieces of theatre I’ve ever experienced. Naturally, when I heard the company was back at Fringe with a new production this year, I was beyond excited. I knew this was one of the shows I had to see at this year’s Fringe, and it occupied the top spot of my watch-list from the moment the programme officially dropped.
It was dangerous to hype it up for myself, and my friends. I was a little worried that the show might fall short of my expectations. But, like it’s predecessor before it, this show surpassed the hype. I think I’d forgotten a little bit just what geniuses of theatrecraft The Wardrobe Ensemble are. The piece, I am given to understand, is devised by the cast a whole, a technique that seems to work well for them, producing a smooth, polished, versatile, and methodically tested performance. Everything is so fluid, every movement and action is brilliantly choreographed. Not one of the actors ever misses a single beat, and the sheer effort poured into each inch of this production shows, and shows beautifully.
1972 did a wonderfully job of balancing energetic and brilliantly timed intelligent comedy with moments pathos, drama, and tenderness. Education does the same. Like it’s predecessor, it provides you with an endless stream of wonderfully original comic moments, before punching you in the gut with something insightful and heartbreaking. The Wardrobe Ensemble have a way of creating scenes the linger with you long after the show is over. Scenes you can never quite forget. Comedy and Tragedy are two sides of the same coin after all, and Education balances it with sublime ease.
I may only have been four years old at the time when the play is set, but I think it captures the mood and zeitgeist of the late 90s perfectly, just as 1972 did with the early 70s, but in a manner that rings true with the mood today. The King Arthur dream sequence hits home particularly hard, with what (if I am correct) is a brutal ‘take a look at yourselves’ moment towards the post-Brexit-vote climate, and the misguided patriotism that created it.
“We have always been a soggy little island”. It’s ostensibly directed towards the British mindset of the post-Blair election, but it’s a statement that applies uncomfortably well to our current situation, and is delivered with a wonderfully blunt tone that put me (at least) in little doubt of what it was also trying to say.
With Education, Education, Education, The Wardrobe Ensemble have proved that they are far more than a one-trick pony, and I have no doubt they will continue to produce consistently brilliant productions like this one, and hope I will be lucky enough to see them.