Review - Admissions starring Alex Kingston at Trafalgar Studios
The era of Trump and Trumpism has ignited a flurry of culture wars that were already simmering. Is affirmative action to increase the representation of black and minority students in college admissions in America the right way to go? And what happens to the previously-privileged status of white students who may lose out as a result?
Last July, the Trump administration withdrew Obama-era policy guidelines that encouraged the consideration of race in college admissions; but playwright Joshua Harmon was ahead of that curve, premiering his challenging and provocative play Admissions at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theatre last March.
Now that play has come to the West End, with its New York director Daniel Aukin and one of its cast Ben Edelman reprising their duties here. And even if the world of a small boarding school in New Hampshire that's intent on sending its students on to the best possible colleges that they can go onto is a little remote from us, this meaty and superbly acted play raises plenty of live-wire issues around race and privilege we can all relate to and need to be challenged by.
Sherri Rosen-Mason is head of admissions at the school, and striving to make her own school a lot more diverse; she's already succeeded in raising the percentage of minority students from 6% to 18%. In a hilarious scene with a member of her development team, she argues forcefully for the college prospectus to contain more images of black students (there are none in the draft she's presented with).
But then the story becomes a lot more personal, when her own teenage son fails to gain a place at Yale - but his unseen best friend Perry, the mixed-race child of Sherri's work colleague and best friend Ginnie Peters, succeeds.
This is a frequently furious debate play that swirls around issues of entitlement, white privilege and positive discrimination, and Aukin's production keeps the tensions, arguments and counter-arguments flowing rapidly for an unbroken 1 hour 45 minutes.
It may sometimes progress with rather too much shouting. And there's also a slightly strange sense that this play about promoting diversity is performed by an all-white cast, with people of colour alluded to, but totally invisible physically. So is it actively perpetuating the inequalities it is ostensibly challenging?
Nevertheless, there are entirely gripping and persuasive performances from Alex Kingston - returning to the London stage after a lot of TV, including most famously ER - as the mother and Ben Edelman in a lacerating study in teenage disenfranchisement as her son, with terrific support from Andrew Woodall as the husband and father respectively to each, Margot Leicester as the confused development associate and Sarah Hadland as the other mother.
Admissions tickets are available now.