In a few minutes time – depending on how fast you read – you will get to the end of this review. Some of you will stop reading before you finish the first paragraph, because you will wonder where this is going, or you will think that this isn’t really your idea of a review, or you will decide that my writing just isn’t for you. Some of you will start reading and then get distracted by something else. Some of you will open another tab on your browser and check your emails, or read the news, or watch cat videos. Some of you will save this page as a bookmark, one of many bookmarks you tell yourself you’ll read one day, even though you know you won’t.
Predictions like this are easy enough to make. They are small, immediate and quickly proved or disproved. It is this kind of prediction that opens Deborah Pearson’s delicate, ever-changing piece The Future Show, which expands gradually outwards from miniature prophecies about the moments following the show to a heartbreaking meditation on Pearson’s entire life. Sitting at a desk and reading from a script, Pearson quietly but captivatingly takes us through the minutes, days, months and years ahead, dancing lightly over ideas around time, death and the constant, anxious quest for certainty in a chaotic world.
For a show that is nominally about the future, the piece says as much – perhaps more – about the present moment. Because of the nature of the show, which must immediately erase itself as it marches on into the future it has predicted, it is freshly rewritten on the morning of each new performance. As such, it inevitably speaks of present anxieties and desires, in much the same way as theatre about the past has a habit of reflecting the moment of its creation.
Right now (or back then, as this is already in the past as you read it) Pearson is naturally preoccupied with Forest Fringe, of which she is co-director, and with the fast-approaching PhD chapter that she is putting off. The anxiety produced by these concerns ripples through the piece, colouring the destiny that Pearson imagines for herself. Pearson’s predictions also offer an insight into her attempts to cope with obsessive compulsive disorder – a condition which, she tells us, can never be cured, only ignored. In the middle of this meticulously controlled performance, there is the troubling possibility that, by obsessively training her eyes on the future, Pearson may be making her OCD worse.
But while the anxiety may be specific, its focus is widely shared. We are all fixated on the future in some way, be that where our next meal is coming from or where we want to be in ten years. In today’s society that is perhaps more true than ever; as Chris Thorpe and Hannah Jane Walker point out in I Wish I Was Lonely (also playing as part of Forest Fringe), capitalist structures teach us to plan ahead. We’re encouraged to book in advance, to save up for a rainy day. Picture your future clearly enough and you will be rewarded. In this context, Pearson’s project has high stakes.
The show also implicitly comments on the passing of time, wondering what happens to the present if we are always looking forward – and prompting the question of whether this obsession with the future really just traps us in the stasis of an endless present. If we are always busy imagining the future, how can we begin to make it?