Acceptance review at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs – ‘relevant, but heavy-handed’
After directing the mediocre Dry Powder on Hampstead Theatre’s main stage earlier this year, Anna Ledwich heads downstairs to helm this weightier piece of new writing in the theatre’s studio space.
Amy Ng’s second play Acceptance tackles themes that resonate particularly strongly in light of the #MeToo movement and allegations of sexual assault against men like Harvey Weinstein.
Angela Chan (Jennifer Leong) is a talented Asian musician who applies to Eliot, a fictional Ivy League school. But gaps in her application lead the admissions office to discover that she had accused a previous professor of rape. This exposes prejudices that leave none of Eliot’s staff unscathed and the school’s affirmative action hiring policy feels hollow with cynicism.
From its portrayal of educational institutions as buckling under financial strains and lawyer-guarded fortresses that protect their own, Ng taps into big, contemporary issues.
Ledwich stages almost every scene with a desk between characters – a constant reminder of power dynamics in an environment where Bo Poraj’s increasingly slimy Ben Cohen can step easily into authority.
Here, male privilege hides behind the image of equality. And when Chan’s account of what happened to her doesn’t accord with Debbie Korley’s otherwise fiercely activist diversity officer Mercy Jones’s perception of a rape victim, we see the murky limits of empathy.
But, frustratingly, Ng doesn’t build from the ground up, instead loading her characters with clunky on-the-nose dialogue. She also delivers a predictable revelation that, in its airless neatness, fails to trust the audience to get the point she is making and ill-serves the play’s powerful, thoughtful core.
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