Review: Scenes for Survival, Future Perfect (Tense), National Theatre of Scotland

Future Perfect (Tense) feels like a natural theatrical result of the pandemic. 

Director Eve Nicol highlights this timeliness, saying “What I find particularly exciting about Nicola [McCartney]’s script is that it can only exist in this form. It isn’t something that you could achieve onstage at all, without having to rely on some kind of audio/visual technology. Or cloning. The piece leans into the opportunities for storytelling that are unique to the digital space.”

She is spot on. Future Perfect tells the story of a woman (Neshla Caplan) fretting over life-decisions. To help make her mind up, she calls future self (Caplan again) just to check if her choices and plans will pan out how she hopes. They range from the mundane (whether to plan a new sofa), to life-changing (will her relationship with her off-screen, gender-neutral partner Alex last?). Their conversation manifests itself in a Zoom call with both participants labelled ‘Me’, a familiar lockdown sight rendered strange.

Despite the metaphysical, technological weirdness, it’s a believable concept. Wanting to dip into your future and see what will be the same and what won’t, feels innately human and instantly recognisable. These themes are amplified in the wake of a long and exacting lockdown. The introspection that has come with so much time to think (for some of us at least), marries with overbearing anxiety over the future in McCartney’s script to re-birth the idea of talking things over with yourself, and undermines the concept of finding comfort in knowing the future.

Caplan gives two strong performances of the present and future version of her character. There are enough differences to emphasise the time between them – the present self’s fretting neurosis is contrasted to the future self’s irritation. But there’s a similarity too, both versions of the character have a likeable earnestness, a passion for helping others and trying to do the best for themselves. In a way this conversation mutates from being a discussion over the future, to a form of self-administered therapy. The growth that the future character has undergone allows her to comfort and support the past character.

The direction and staging also helps to sharpen the divide between the two– with the past version sat in a spacious, pristine living room. A large sunny window backlights her immaculate hair and make-up. The future version sits in a cramped kitchen with no natural light, fresh out of the shower with wet hair. These spaces effectively contrast the mindset of the characters. The future woman, despite being frustrated and appearing slightly bedraggled, has already survived and overcome the issues that the present woman, in her more glamorous setting, is struggling with.

The editing (by James Alcock) deserves particular credit here as well, as it creates a real energy between the characters, belying the fact that they are two independent recordings. 

It could be argued the course this script takes feels a little obvious. Nothing is spelt out about the woman’s future, but things are hinted at. And the impression the future version leaves, of plans not coming to fruition, of heartbreak, don’t seem surprising. But perhaps that is the point – what happens doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that they do happen that this work celebrates. It investigates the schism between who we are and who we want to be, and highlights that while there is a temptation to talk to our future selves, it is just as important to talk to our past selves. To be kind to the people we were, and accept that those past experiences are key to the present we find ourselves in.

Future Perfect (Tense) is streaming on the National Theatre of Scotland’s website.