Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
Provocative new comedy starring Alex Kingston
Author Joshua Harmon has a knack for knowing how to prod an audience with his acerbic, provocative storylines. Following on from Bad Jews, Harmon's latest stage adaptation turns to the issue of positive discrimination.
I caught Admissions straight after its brief successful stint in the West End when it moved on to Malvern Theatres. It stays there from June 10 to 15 before moving on to The Lowry in Salford.
Leading the cast is a big-hitter of Alex Kingston - of ER and Moll Flanders fame. She is excellent as Sherri, the Head of Admissions at an American private school in New Hampshire, who has spent her career fighting to diversify the student intake at an elite school.
What she hadn't bargained for was coming face to face with her own family's attitudes towards race when her son fails to get into Yale, but his mixed race friend does.
There's a juxtaposition of what people say and what they do that runs throughout the well balanced plot and questions whether many people fighting hardest to make the world a better place, in terms of both female and racial equality with quotas, are only prepared to do so if it doesn't effect them. How far are they willing to go if it means sacrificing the dreams they have for their own child?
The controversy gets under way quickly through hilarious scenes featuring Sherri and ageing school colleague Roberta, who hasn't quite got the gist of Sherri's photo requirements for the admissions catalogue.
These scenes about the catalogue not being diverse enough are continued at regular intervals throughout the one act 90 minute play and are the funniest moments to relish.
Seeing Sherri and her good intentions squirm and talk around saying the words she really means is comedy gold. All Roberta needs to know in plain English is exactly what Sherri wants as she's a kindly old lady who explains that she "doesn't see race or colour but people". She is played with beautiful naivety by Margot Leicester as she forces Sherri to eventually spell out exactly how "dark" she wants people to be in the photos.
Hearing these discussions said out loud might sound ridiculous, and are obviously played for comedic effect, but Harmon also cleverly balances out the script so that you understand why everyone, on either side of every argument - and there are many in this shouty, in-your-face drama - feels the way they do.
Director Daniel Aukin, who also worked with Harmon on Bad Jews, has a strong cast to work with and keeps the momentum going with a healthy pace.
Sarah Hadland, well known as Stevie in BBC comedy Miranda, plays Sherri's friend Ginnie, who is married to a black teacher at the school and is celebrating her son's acceptance into Yale. It's a more serious role than usual for Hadland as she is the person calling out Sherri and her family on their preconceived notions that the only reason her son could have got into the prestigious school is because of his ethnicity.
Interestingly, although this play is about race, there's no people of colour in the cast and maybe that was Harmon's intention.
Ben Edelman is a whirl of energy on stage as emotional teenager Charlie, who gradually determines his own feelings on this issue. He moves from angry to enlightened and eventually a tortured soul as he struggles with what to do about being a white privileged male in America.
Edelman is impressive, but his long rants as Charlie sometimes became garbled and unclear. In comparison, Andrew Woodall as dad Bill may be calm and sedate, but he delivers the killer lines that end most of the conversations.
This may sound like a heavy subject, but Harmon has infused a tough topic with constant humour.
Yes, there's some difficult questions to answer and it will provoke plenty of debate, especially in those who see a little of themselves in the middle-class wine-sipping couple at the centre of this entertaining play.
Witty, clever and frank, Admissions is a fresh and welcome satire that gives you plenty of belly laughs of provocative comedy.
Running time 90 minutes with no interval. Tickets cost from £16.80.