REVIEW: Admissions at Cambridge Arts Theatre is a tour de force on middle class do-gooding by numbers

PUBLISHED: 23:29 03 June 2019 | UPDATED: 23:29 03 June 2019

Alex Kingston and Andrew Woodhall in Admissions

Alex Kingston and Andrew Woodhall in Admissions

Johan Persson

Admissions by Joshua Harmon, is about the merits of positive discrimination. If you need quotas then the system must be rotten to the core.

Admissions by Joshua Harmon, is about the merits of positive discrimination.

Sherri Rosen-Mason, played in a tour de force by Alex Kingston, has made it her life's work to up the numbers of ethnic minority students into the high school where she is responsible for admissions.

In the opening scene, we see her berating the well-meaning development officer Roberta, played smoothly by Margot Leicester, for having too few black faces in the establishment's prospectus. How can Sherri admit the pupils who don't apply? They need to see faces like theirs in the brochure she says.

Meanwhile, Sherri's own bright son Charlie, played with passion by Ben Edelman, fails to get into Yale. His friend Perry, whose father is black, gets a place.

At first, Charlie is so anguished he goes into a forest for four hours to scream. But as the play develops and his rage subsides, it occurs to him that the world is too male and pale. He calls his mother's bluff. He refuses to go to any top university. He tells her to spend the fees on another school scholarship for an under-privileged child.

She is distraught as he points out to her that every celebration she makes at every percentage increase of minority students in her school - has cost her nothing.

Every ethnic admission is simply a feather in her professional cap. It's easy to redress the balance at someone else's expense he says.

There is a real debate here about privilege and how to rebalance it.

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What Sherri is doing about quotas. That is not the same as creating equality. You need fairness in employment, housing, health and education all through a child's life to even begin to do that.

Quotas can backfire. Perry's white mother, Ginnie (in a finely nuanced performance by Sarah Hadland) explains that every time her black husband gets a job, someone will sneer that he is just making up the numbers.

The premise of the play is that we cannot create a just society by simply tinkering at the top - or busing children from once place to another. Their experiences, their aspirations and their environments, their nutrition, their quality of sleep, play and feelings of security need to be even right from the start.

The outsider might see most of the game but it is much more difficult for them to take part.

The performances here are exemplary, the pace is fast, there is never a dull moment and director Daniel Aukin's production is spellbinding.

This is a play which has something to say.

Admissions is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, June 8.

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