Daylight filters in through the blinds, light spilling into the heart of an exquisite kitchen. Crafted by Paul Wills, the set of Admissions looks like a page torn from a high-end design catalogue, save its slightly lived-in quality. Used mugs lurk in the company of an open wine bottle and a family of long-stemmed glasses, careful not to disturb a duo of tea towels folded neatly over the crooked elbow of an oven. A blanket too, is draped across the shoulders of a sofa, with a long staircase stretching in the back as if it had just woken up. An island sits comfortably in the centre, cherry-oak floorboards lapping at its edges. It throws focus on a selection of recipe books, housed delicately amid glass jars brimming with miscellaneous ingredients. Very Nigel Slater.
The ringing of a school bell brings the stage to life. It is December 2015 and a green juice and laptop marks the territory of Sherri (played by Alex Kingston) – the Head of Admissions at a private school in New Hampshire, America. Recognised for her liberal nature, Sherri is working hard to diversify the student body. Her words are straight-jacketed by political correctness, in contrast to fellow colleague Roberta (Margot Leicester) to whom she has entrusted the task of updating the school prospectus. With a generation gap yawning between the two, Roberta’s ignorance around the topic of race is at once calamitous and entertaining. It is perhaps, then, most interesting how Sherri’s progressive values all but disappear in the shadow of her son.
When Charlie’s college application to Yale is deferred while his best friend – who “ticks more boxes” – is accepted, chaos ensues. A door slams, and endless echoes are met by the stamping of feet. Played by a superb Ben Edelman, the hood of Charlie’s parka coat falls over his head as he sulks, pacing the floor like an aggravated bear cub. In a torrid stream of consciousness, his sentences begin to get caught somewhere between his mouth and nose. A nasal whinging proceeds to wrap itself around an impressive, if alarming monologue – what can only be recognised as a sexist, racist explosion. “Well, we successfully raised a Republican”, says his father, Bill (Andrew Woodall), after bequeathing the dressing-down of a lifetime.
Charlie’s character, however, becomes the biggest surprise of the production. With his head hanging by the hinges of his neck, an internal battle with his own privilege upends his initial standpoint. Admissions is a triumph. It is as though writer Joshua Harmon is ripping plaster after plaster from the skin of his ivory cast – all of whom become consumed by the maze of right and wrong erected under the weight of his pen. Successfully managing to hold such a multitude of mirrors up to society is a considerable achievement. It is enough to make one wonder how many years of bad luck have been accrued from smashing them, and how long it will take its audience to pick the shards of glass from the soles of their feet.
Admissions is playing Trafalgar Studios until 25 May, and will transfer to the Richmond Theatre from 27 May to 1 June. For more information and tickets, see the Trafalgar Studios website.