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Greater London
posted/updated: 14 Mar 2019 -
Admissions - ★★
by Joshua Harmon. Produced by Simon Friend, Trafalgar Theatre Productions and Gavin Kalin in association with Anthology Theatre.
society/company: West End & Fringe (directory)
performance date: 13 Mar 2019
venue: Trafalgar Studios, London
reviewer/s: Chris Abbott (Sardines review)

Alex Kingston (Sherri) and Sarah Hadland (Ginnie). Photo: Johan Persson


Admissions deals with the issues that arise when young people from different backgrounds apply to university in the US. On the face of it, this is a very timely topic for a play, and not just because this is the time when young people across the UK are finding out whether they have their first choice of secondary school. Even more relevant is the news this week that various celebrities in the US have been arrested and accused of buying places in higher education institutions for their children.

In the event, the topic of the play is not really the admissions process but the way in which it highlights the differing advantages of, in particular, white as opposed to Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students, although that term is not used in a disappointing script which sometimes seems to have been written long ago.

Alex Kingston does everything she can to save the play, and gives a portrayal of someone who has devoted her life to increasing diversity and yet doesn’t seem to really have her heart in it. Why this should be is not made clear, and it is no fault of Kingston that her character’s actions and responses seem unbelievable. As her husband, Andrew Woodall is equally impressive and just as difficult to fathom, and Margot Leicester's Roberta is lifted from the depths of cliché only by this actor’s considerable skill and experience.

Most curious of all is the part of friend Ginnie, again well played by Sarah Hadland, but expected to be the voice of the black faculty members because she is married to one. In a play which is fundamentally about white middle class guilt, it is astonishing that none of the characters is black, and that the black protagonists in the action are talked about and given voice only by their white colleagues.

The plot development towards the end revolves around son Charlie, a strange mixture of naïve and savant, given as much life and reality as possible by Ben Edelman, who played the part on Broadway. His annoyance at his parents when they will not support his proposed action is shared by many in the audience, as surely these people would, albeit reluctantly, recognise his motives as potentially in tune with their own aims?

The conflict between son and parents, though over-shouty and accompanied by too many speedy exits up the enormously long staircase in this kitchen, is at least a relief from the reliance on one liners around white middle-class angst about diversity in school brochures, an issue which played out and was resolved in the UK twenty years ago. A disappointing play then, and made watchable only by the considerable skills of those on stage.

Andrew Woodall (Bill) and Ben Edelman (Charlie). Photo: Johan Persson

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