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“Polished production of a stultifying play”

“Astonishing!” “Daring!” “Provocative!”

Thus shout the posters for Admissions, the new comedy-drama from Bad Jews playwright Joshua Harmon that transfers to Trafalgar Studios from New York’s Lincoln Center after making a splash across the pond and scooping up a couple of best play awards. Don’t believe the buzz: it’s none of those things.

Daniel Aukin’s polished production stars ER and Doctor Who’s Alex Kingston as Sherri, the admissions officer of a fancy, upper-middle-class prep school in New England. She’s simultaneously trying to up her establishment’s diversity credentials, and desperately praying for her 17-year-old son to get into Yale. When he doesn’t, but his mixed-race friend does, principles and personal ambitions come into conflict in an entirely predictable, screamingly schematic way.

There’s nothing formally adventurous about the play. There’s no dialogue, only dialectic; the “jokes” are easy, ill-judged jibes at diversity quotas; and it all takes place on Paul Wills’ squeaky clean, open-plan set, complete with kitchen island and bar stools. Meanwhile, the endless, repetitive back-and-forth about the ethics of accessibility takes place without a single actual ethnic minority on stage.

We’ve seen this sort of thing before, often in the smaller studio space at the same venue: a feted American work, considered outrageous and audacious over there, that seems the exact opposite over here. On a British stage, Admissions seems more wrapped up in its own sense of derring-do, more puffed-up on its own pull-quotes, than anything else.

It’s just so unapologetically, unashamedly a play for white, middle-class audiences, wrestling with their consciences about being over-privileged and unprepared to do anything about it. Yes, it’s deftly put together from a dramaturgical perspective, and yes, it’s full of artfully constructed oratories, but it all amounts to little more than well-constructed hand-wringing over white guilt.

Kingston gives a perfectly fine performance at the centre of a perfectly fine production, sliding easily between exasperated professional and exasperated mother. She’s ably supported by Andrew Woodall as her brusque headteacher husband, by Ben Edelman as her extremely adolescent, tantrum-throwing son, and by Sarah Hadland as her puffer-jacketed pal Ginnie. Aukin arranges things with efficiency, rather than flair, and the whole thing is over in 100 minutes, without an interval.

In truth, it’s a shame such a solid cast and crew has been wasted on such a stultifying script. Harmon’s play is capably acted and capably staged, but it’s a work that, quite frankly, was not worth the air fare to fly it over here. Next to its predecessor at Trafalgar Studios, Natasha Gordon’s Nine Night, Admissions seems like a real step backwards.

Related to this Review


Production Details
Production nameAdmissions
VenueTrafalgar Studios
StartsFebruary 28, 2019
EndsMay 25, 2019, then touring
Running time1hr 40mins
AuthorJoshua Harmon
DirectorDaniel Aukin
Set designerPaul Wills
Sound designerGregory Clarke
CastAlex Kingston, Andrew Woodall, Ben Edelman, Margot Leicester, Sarah Hadland
ProducerSimon Friend
VerdictA painfully predictable, screamingly schematic play from Bad Jews writer Joshua Harmon, starring Alex Kingston
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Fergus Morgan

Fergus Morgan

Fergus Morgan

Fergus Morgan

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