London Theatre Review: Admissions at London's Trafalgar Studios
| By Sandra Howell
(Updated on Mar 25, 2019)
It’s so unfair living in a society which privileges rich and middle-class white people, right? So what to do? Dabble in a version of social engineering like Sherri Rosen- Mason, a white middle-class Head of Admissions of a private school in America? Alex Kingston’s Sherri is embarrassingly politically aware and has chosen to redress the balance by devising her own system to increase the proportion of students of colour admitted to the private school. Kingston is superb as Sherri, who believes, and lets everyone know it, she is fighting the good fight against white privilege, whilst lacking insight into her own privileged position. Sherri is exposed as taking a tokenistic approach to levelling the playing field. Sherri’s hypocrisy is also revealed in the way she manages her son Charlie not getting into Yale, when Charlie’s friend Perry, who is bi-racial, does.
Congratulations to playwright Joshua Harrison for capturing the white, liberal, middle-class angst and hypocrisy of the current debate about white privilege, in such an intelligent and humorous way. Congratulations also to the cast whose stars shine through the dark brilliance of Harrison’s script. Each actor deftly weaves through the tightly written, sharp-tongued dialogue which rapidly and heavily lands so many punches. They deal with so much in only one and a half hours. I laughed long and hard, sometimes shouting out in laughter at the cruel humour which cuts so close to the bone, it shows the truth, which is very much lacking in some of the key protagonists, particularly in Sherri.
No one is the moral compass of Admissions, because it is constantly shifting and each character exposes the flaws of the other characters, as well as their own. Charlie, realistically played by Ben Edelman, who is the teenage son of Sherri and Bill Mason, flips out. He has the classic teenage tantrum, except as someone who is clever and articulate he succeeds in persuading Sherri of the injustice of being overlooked as a white male in favour of white females and people of colour. Charlie compares his academic achievements with Perry’s and his writing skills with Olive’s, the female editor of the school paper, claiming he is the better student and writer. Bill Mason, played by Andrew Woodhall with the right amount of know-it-all conceit, appears to be the moral compass when he calls out Charlie as spoilt and overprivileged. But Bill fails to take responsibility for his parental role in raising such an entitled young man even though he quips “Looks like we successfully raised a Republican.” He also does not check his own privilege. Ginnie Peters, Perry’s mother and Sherri’s best friend does. Sarah Hadland’s Ginnie is hurt and angry when she self-righteously calls out Bill’s white privilege. She questions Sherri as to why her mixed race husband, who has the same credentials as Bill, is still an English teacher, whilst Bill has risen to the top of their profession. Ginnie is herself hypocritical, there are references to her buying cakes from a baker who had been accused of child molestation, which she justifies by saying he makes delicious cakes and anyway it wasn’t proven.
Although all the characters are self-deluded, Sherri is probably the most self-deluded and hypocritical of them all, which is repeatedly demonstrated, particularly in her fraught exchanges with Margot Leicester who plays a baffled Roberta, an older white woman who is trying to get to grips with Sherri’s demands for more diversity. As Roberta declares “I don’t see colour” the audience groans and laughs as it is both painful and funny. When Sherri criticises Roberta for producing a school brochure which doesn’t have enough photos of people of colour, Roberta, points to a photo of Perry. However, Sherri thinks that he “doesn’t read black.” Leicester plays Roberta so naturally, you cannot be sure if she is as naïve as she appears when she asks “ you want more people of colour but these are the wrong shade?” does she want photos of people who are “more dark skinned.” Sherri allows herself to be pushed to respond that she wants more who are “identifiable as black or Hispanic.” Which is basically what Roberta said. This illustrates Sherri’s tick box approach to challenging racism.
Ultimately it is Charlie who sums up how Sherri and Bill fight white privilege when he tells them that they want to make the world a better place “as long as you are not sacrificing anything.” And as long as they are not fundamentally changing anything.
Book Admissions tickets now because enrolment closes 25 May.
Want to Meet and Greet the cast of Admissions? When you purchase a £55 ticket for the performance on 16 April you will not only receive a complimentary glass of champagne but after the show, you will be invited to meet the cast on stage. A group photo will be taken and emailed to you after the show. Book your Admissions Meet and Greet tickets here.