Alex Kingston (Sherri), Andrew Woodall (Bill), and Ben Edelman (Charlie)Johan Persson

Getting admitted into college in the United States has never been harder. Or, rather – with hollywood stars and affluent parents recently revealed to have payed inordinate sums in bribes for their children’s acceptance letters to elite institutions – it’s never been harder to get your kid into college.

The hypocrisy revealed in Admissions is especially topical; it’s never OK for parents to buy their kids into university – unless it’s your own kids, of course. And everyone deserves the opportunity to attend elite colleges – unless it means your kid isn’t given a spot.

Admissions is a 2018 play by American playwright Joshua Harmon, known for Bad Jews (2012) and Broadway’s Significant Other (2015). It first played Off-Broadway at the Lincoln Center theatre where it was the recipient of the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. Having transferred to the West End in February, Admissions now is in the middle of a UK tour, presently stopping at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.

The personalities seem a bit over-aggrandized and extreme when on high for two hours

Set at Hillcrest, a New Hampshire Private School interchangeable with any New England boarding school, Sherri (Alex Kingston, of Doctor Who fame) works as head of admissions, her mission to increase the diversity of Hillcrest by raising the school’s percentage of students of colour to twenty percent. But Sherri also works as mother to Charlie (Ben Edelman, the only actor from the original US cast), one of the school’s most promising students. When Charlie is deferred from Yale but his friend, Perry, is admitted, unpleasant personal agitations come into conflict with moral appearances. Charlie’s grades are slightly better, he takes more AP classes, and he got a higher score on the SATs. But Charlie is white and Perry is black, and tensions rise when the relevance of race is brought into question.

Parents that champion diversity are thus forced to reckon with their own insecurities. Framed by essential satire, Sherri, alongside Charlie’s father, and Headmaster of Hillcrest, Bill (Andrew Woodall), teeter between a Get Out-esque duality of liberal preaching of “wokeness” and ignorance, as phrases like “I don’t see colour!” or “We’re not talking about diversity, we’re talking about you!” are tossed about.

White, liberal hypocrisies are brought to centre-stage through the frame of ethical dilemmas and self-reckonings. Charlie, after hearing from Yale, returns home having spent the day screaming in the woods in guttural frustration. His screams are dialled back – in a masterful monologue by Edelman – to a breakneck, impassioned rant that paints itself as relatable, effectively trapping audiences in their problematic empathy with these troubled qualms.

Admissions’ characters are overexpressed for the sake of satire, but the personalities seem a bit over-aggrandized and extreme when on high for two hours, such as Bill, who totters from being a blunt voice of reason to a bit of a forced antagonist, especially alongside the impeccably balanced vivacity and maternal tenderness of Kingston’s Sherri.

The Harvard-or-Yale-or-bust mentality might parallel a similar Oxbridge mentality

The set was noticeably stark, analogous to many upper middle-class stainless steel and sterile family kitchens, but lacking in colourful touches such that it almost became overwhelming in its whiteness, and perhaps intentionally so. However, the seamless transitions that blended Sherri’s office and home settings were apt in giving a singular frame to further juxtapose her differentiating behaviour when forced to reckon with the causes she champions at work on the personal scale in her own home.


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The play is definitively constructed in and for New York in its appeal to white American liberalism. The play is strikingly American (though the ethical investigations are universally applicable, for better or worse), which poses personal quandaries if the show is to be able to resonate with a British audience in the way it might have in the US. Of course, the Harvard-or-Yale-or-bust mentality might parallel a similar Oxbridge mentality, yet, the American university acceptance experience, the basis of the narrative, based on a broad interweaving of a variety of factors beyond numerical averages, including, fundamentally and unfortunately, quite a bit of luck, is a system that is intrinsically different to that of the UK. The mentions of American colleges such as Middlebury, Colby, and Bucknell, meant to satirise their definition as lesser whilst understanding they remain stellar, prestigious, and privileged institutions, may not have translated to the UK audience.

The play then seemingly becomes more spectatorial or voyeuristic than transitive – with the satire alienated from its context, the play bends towards laughing at Americans rather than laughing with and at one’s self, mixed with discomfort and dislocation in a true, painful targeting of personal faults. However, with a superb cast and compelling narrative, layered with familial, emotional depth, Admissions is guaranteed to disquiet, and leave audiences in a space of provocative self-reflection.

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