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‘Glorious, a sharp & timely treat’: ADMISSIONS – West End ★★★★

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Trafalgar Studios, London – until 11 May 2019

I adored the energy, cleverness and cheek of Bad Jews so much I went twice, as the pitiless author set his characters kicking, twisting, protesting and fighting about principles which are as much emotional as moral. If not more so.

Admissions is by the same Broadway writer – Joshua Harmon – and even better. And nicely topical too, both sides of the Atlantic, since it’s about the middle-class obsession with shoehorning their 17- and 18-year-old kids into the ‘right’ colleges, by hook, crook, donation or ‘legacy’ status, all the while protesting how liberal and inclusive they are. So I rushed keenly along. And was not disappointed.

Mr Harmon must put in a lot of stage directions saying “Shouting!’  “Furious”  “Ranting”  and  “He/She explodes”. For, as in Bad Jews, the temperature takes little time to rise past boiling and into superheated-steam. The setting is a US private school, Hillcrest, where the extremely correct-thinking dean of admissions Sherri Rosen-Mason (Alex Kingston)  is the wife of the head and mother of a promising lad Charlie. Her best friend Ginnie (Sarah Hadland) is married to a black teacher and has an equally promising son,  Perry.   The boys are best friends.

That Sherri is sincere in her quest to get the  visible “diversity” of the school up to 20% , and has done so with some success,  is sketched in a very funny opening scene where she upbraids poor Roberta from Admin (Margot Leicester, nicely dishevelled)   for not getting enough Students Of Colour in the brochure.   Nice Roberta is baffled “I don’t see colour, I’m not a race person”,  and protests that Ginnie’s son Perry is in it.  But to Sherri,  Perry doesn’t photograph quite black enough, being bi-racial.  There have been complaints from her too about “ethnocentric meal plans”  to which poor Roberta cries “Kids like pizza!”.   They also like Moby Dick, but it’s banned now for being by a dead white male.    You get the picture.

The glorious central conflict comes when Perry gets into Yale.  His friend white Charlie doesn’t.  And blows his top, saying how hard it is having “no special boxes to tick”, and – tellingly – remembering that on all their college visits the Deans were visibly more interested in Perry than in him,  more conscious eye-contact and laughing at his jokes.  Especially if Perry’s fully black Dad was next to him….

Ben Edelman as Charlie, over from the US production, is a treat:  six feet of coiled adolescent rage at the world’s unfairness,  his long rant has a Just-William ability to argue :  as when he roars  that a Hispanic student might well be descended from colonialist conquistadors, and that one is the son of the Chilean ambassador,   whereas his grandparents’ cousins were at Auschwitz so where’s the white-privilege in that?  This outrages his father, who is also rabidly PC and fears he has  “raised a Republican”.   But in a savage turnaround wholly credible in a 17 year old boy,    Charlie piously decides he was wrong, so wrong that he must recuse himself from all the high-status universities and privilege in a way that guarantees that his parents shed all their principles in an even more violent emotional conniption.

Gales of appalled laughter run through the audience.     Glorious, a sharp and timely treat.

box offfice www.atgtickets.com    to 11 may

rating four

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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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