Theatre Review: ADMISSIONS – The Lowry, Salford

Alex Kingston in ADMISSIONS. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Alex Kingston as Sherri Rosen-Mason in ADMISSIONS. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Despite its whip-smart script, Joshua Harmon’s ADMISSIONS fails to deliver on the laughs

3 out of 5 stars

Race, privilege and discrimination come under the microscope in Joshua Harmon’s new drama ADMISSIONS.

As Head of Admissions at an exclusive private school, Sherri Rosen-Mason (Alex Kingston) has made it her life’s work to increase diversity at the school. In fact, she takes every opportunity to remind those around her that she has helped to increase the number of students of colour by 300% in the past 15 years.

But when her son Charlie finds that his place at Yale has been deferred, while his less talented best friend Perry – who ‘ticks more boxes’ – is accepted, Sherri finds that her personal ambitions begin to collide with her progressive values.

On the surface, there is much to like about ADMISSIONS. Like his previous work BAD JEWS, Harmon’s crackling script is whip-smart, daring and full of rage, swirling around issues of entitlement, white privilege and positive discrimination with deliberate satire and irony.

Alex Kingston and Sarah Hadland in ADMISSIONS.

Alex Kingston and Sarah Hadland in ADMISSIONS. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Director Daniel Aukin also successfully manages to keep the tensions high for an unbroken 1 hour 45 minutes while Paul Wills’ static kitchen set design provides the perfect backdrop as the days and months gradually bleed into each other.

Shame then that for a comedy, ADMISSIONS just doesn’t deliver on the laughs. Don’t get me wrong, there are some bitingly funny one-liners here and the cast generally do well Harmon’s wordy script, but the bulky, often repetitive arguments begin to feel sluggish after a while and the constantly conflicting emotions and arguments make this award-winning play surprisingly hard to laugh at.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the characters are so dislikeable. The Masons are simply a horrible family, their behaviour so bound up in extreme wealth and privilege that it becomes almost impossible to relate to them. The father, in particular, seems to lack any form of compassion for his son, refusing to commiserate at all when Charlie learns of his Yale news.

The cast of ADMISSIONS

Alex Kingston and Margot Leicester in ADMISSIONS. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

That said, there are some genuinely engaging moments, the best of the comedy coming through in the scenes between Sherri and Roberta (Margot Leicester), the development associate charged with finding a host of suitably diverse photographs for the school brochure.

There are also some detailed, nuanced and believable performances from Alex Kingston as Sherri, who is barely off stage throughout the whole thing, and Ben Edelman as Charlie, who delivers a simultaneously infuriating and pitiful performance as the hard-working son who doesn’t get his happily ever after.

ADMISSIONS isn’t an easy watch but it is piercing and provocative, daring to question whether the race to the top is ever simply black and white.

ADMISSIONS runs at The Lowry, Salford until 22 June 2019