ADMISSIONS – a biting American satire about middle class values and muddled elitism and liberalism – opened in Malvern straight from the West End to an enthusiastic reception and a full house. I think this is more of a tribute to superb acting, directing and a set you could almost move into, rather than the subject matter.
The story is a bit of a one trick pony – namely what happens if you work in private education in the good old US of A and your clever son does not get into Yale when your best friend Ginnie’s less academic son -who happens to be a ‘person of colour’- does?
Sherri Rosen-Mason (an impressively intense performance from Alex Kingston) is admissions officer at the said New Hampshire school, her husband Bill (a cool and mostly measured Andrew Woodall) is headteacher and her son (top notch job from Ben Edelman who also trod the boards in this part on Broadway) Charlie is a student. Sarah Hadland gives a delightful heart-on-your-sleeve performance as the best friend Ginnie Peters.
The play opens with an hilarious scene in which the compiler of the new school prospectus Roberta (magnificent voice of sanity performance from Margot Leicester) is being hauled over the coals by admissions officer Sherri for the lack of diversity in her photograph selection, Sherri has already raised the intake of non-white students from six to 16 per cent and is seeking to reach even greater heights come next academic intake.
We move to the wine-quaffing, ultra-liberal chatter and banter twixt husband and wife being sharply shattered at the entrance of Charlie from a late night sojourn of howling in the woods – his reaction after he opened his rejection letter from Yale.
Now comes into play the huge staircase, which dominates the set and pounds with the angst of teenage feet as Charlie runs to the sanctity of his room – only to return fairly swiftly in the same manner and launch into a non-stop rant that lasts for seemingly endless minutes – delivered with machine-gun speed, dripping in vitriol and woe-is-me-ism with every sentence until he finally runs out of both words and breath.
Director Daniel Aukin has done his job well as we watch this complacent bunch fall from their ladders of liberal snobbery and resort to employing the very measures for which they hold others in contempt.
Like the cast, the set by Paul Wills has travelled from the West End and its quality shows. The lighting design from Oliver Fenwick breathes realism from the first rays of sun we see coming the stairs as we enter the auditorium, making us do a double take as to the time of day – it is like entering someone’s house in the early morning not looking at a stage in the evening.
Admittedly some of the message misses its mark at a British audience and we can tut and laugh at our cousins across the pond but there are parts that made me feel this is uncomfortably close to home. My favourite line has to be Sherri saying both innocently and pathetically ‘Some of my best friends are white’.
‘Admissions’ is a theatre lovers treat and shouldn’t be missed – it gets a high four stars from me.
It runs until Saturday, June 15.
Click here for more information, tickets and times.
Review by Euan Rose.