Directed by Daniel Aukin, Joshua Harmon’s new play has transferred to London’s Trafalgar Studios following a critically-acclaimed debut at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater.
Admissions is a daring and intelligent new satire about racial representation; it’s highly compelling, even though it’s oftentimes excruciating to watch. Exploring themes of diversity – and in the process poking some gentle fun at Republicans – it feels very timely, debating several questions that are currently being asked. How do we define diversity? Who gets to decide which characteristics are most important? Who should – and who does – benefit from positive discrimination? And is it ever possible to enact change without it coming at someone else’s expense?
It tells the story of Sherri Rosen-Mason (Alex Kingston), who has spent some 15 years as the head of admissions at a privileged boarding school in New Hampshire. During her tenure, she has overseen a threefold increase in diversity; when the percentage looks likely to rise further still, she and her husband Bill Mason (Andrew Woodall) open a bottle of, tellingly, white wine to celebrate. However, their commitment to equality of opportunity is called into question when their son Charlie (Ben Edelman) fails to land a place at Yale.
Things become personal when Charlie’s best friend – the unseen Perry, who happens to be son of Sherri’s friend Ginnie Peters (Sarah Hadland) – is offered a place at the prestigious law school. There is an uncomfortable undertone throughout that, as one of a small number of BAME applicants, Perry may have been successful because he ‘ticked more boxes’ as opposed to landing a place on the strength of his application alone.
There’s a lot here to enjoy. We thought the script itself was superb – there are dozens of witty lines which we found highly amusing, while it makes its points in an intelligent and often provocative manner. Although on occasion matters descend into a bit of a shouting match, by-and-large the acting is excellent. Of particular note, we were impressed with Ben Edelman’s prolonged tirade following his character’s rejection from Yale; while we initially felt sorry for him, we grew increasingly uncomfortable as his argument shifted further to the right.
Admissions is an impressive piece of theatre. It’s an intelligent and compelling new satire featuring some strong acting, which managed to keep us engaged for the full 100-minute duration – and at times it’s also very funny indeed. Highly recommended.
Gay Times gives Admissions – ★★★★☆
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