Trafalgar Studios, London – until 25 May 2019
Joshua Harmon doesn’t beat about the bush when tackling difficult questions about diversity and equality in Admissions, a biting new comedy that couldn’t be more relevant, especially to parents.
Less than 12 hours after opening at London’s Trafalgar Studios the national press were full of stories from America about a high-profile group of parents, including Desperate Housewife actress Felicity Huffman, who are being accused of fiddling the education system to get their kids into Ivy League colleges.
Education can become an all consuming obsession from the moment a child is conceived. Parents will do anything in the race to ensure their baby gets ahead of the competition. It’s all very well for the Corbynistas and Islington types insisting that community schools and colleges are better than grammars and independent schools.
But mums and dads will move mountains to ensure that their child gets the very best education which means a battle, sometimes dirty, to secure everything from the most coveted pre-school places right up to university choices.
However, that fight has been made more difficult, nay impossible, for some, by the introduction of quotas and diversity targets. Harmon tackles the thorny issue of diversity over ability with his usual bull-in-a-china shop approach. No walking on egg shells here.
I found the whole thing very funny but would theatre-goers from a different ethnicity appreciate his humour or his perspective?
Alex Kingston plays Sherri Rosen-Mason, the oh so liberal, left-leaning, admissions head of a private New Hampshire boarding school where her goal is to boost the intake from ethnic minorities. She is appalled when Roberta, head of development and charged with producing the school’s prospectus, comes up with a draft which features photos of only one or two persons of colour – including her best friend’s mixed race son, Perry.
Sherri complains that Perry isn’t dark skinned enough. She wants to see more persons of colour – emphasis on the colour. Margot Leicester’s Roberta is tearing her hair out. “All that comes out of your mouth is diversity, diversity, diversity.”
But Sherri’s diversity drive is thrown in her face when she hears that the less academic Perry has won a place at Yale while her son, white, atheist – though of Jewish extraction – Charlie, has not.
Suddenly she is demanding that her husband and fellow academic, Bill, pull every string to get her son into one of the country’s top universities.
There’s a superb scene when distraught son Charlie explodes at his parents over the diversity issue that sees him, a high achieving white guy, prejudiced against because he doesn’t fall into the right box.
Harmon’s dialogue throws up lots of questions that probably baffle a lot of people such as ‘who decides whether someone is a person of colour?’ As Charlie says, it isn’t only black people who are deemed coloured.
Penelope Cruz (Spanish) is considered dark skinned by some people yet Sophie Lauren (Italian) isn’t. No wonder he and Roberta find themselves lost in new age thinking that frequently demands a colour chart to negotiate.
And are we not also considering gender or religion? asks a confused Roberta.
Kingston is superb as a woman torn between her ideals and her son’s academic future which she sees as the key to his success as an adult.
Sarah Hadland, who is married to Perry’s black father, finds herself similarly conflicted between friendship and motherhood while Ben Edelman gives a terrific turn as the angry, frustrated son, Charlie.
At one point Charlie’s dad, (Andrew Woodall) calls his son a privileged spoilt brat but is later horrified by his son’s actions and rebellion.
A brilliantly funny and well-observed comedy that throws up lots of questions about who we are and how we fit in to today’s society.
Admissions runs at the Trafalgar Studios until May 25.
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