Sarah Hadland interview: her role in controversial new play 'Admissions' at the Cambridge Arts Theatre
Sarah Hadland is amazed at how her new stage role has mirrored real events in the news.
Admissions centres on two friends whose sons both apply to Yale University - but only one gets in because he ‘ticks more boxes’ in terms of diversity.
And it reveals the extreme lengths some parents will go to in order to boost their children’s success.
It launched in London just as the scandal broke revealing Hollywood star Felicity Huffman had been arrested for fraudulently conspiring to win a college place for her daughter. She has now pleased guilty to the offence.
Sarah says: “That happened on our press night. I think it showed you how timely this play was and how far people will go under the guise of thinking ‘well I would do anything for my child’.
“Personally, I think what the people have done is appalling, to sort of pay for their children to get into university. It’s not right.
“You could argue that anyone would do anything for their child. But then that stops it being a level playing field for other children because if someone can say ‘I will just write a cheque and they will get a place,’ it makes a mockery of the system.”
Sarah plays Ginnie, the mother of a bi-racial child whose best friend is the son of the school headmaster and of her close friend, Sherri, played by Alex Kingston.
The play, a dark comedy, throws up some challenging questions about how far a parent would stretch their morals to support their own child.
Sarah says: “Sherri is a very liberal person who is desperately working very hard to encourage us all to be more diverse, but those values are really tested - as is our friendship - when one of our sons gets into Yale and the other one doesn’t.
“And it is about the hypocrisy and the challenge of who you think you are and who you really are when issues come and affect your own family, specifically your children. So these two mothers’ friendship is really examined under a microscope.
“Although it deals with these big issues of race diversity white privilege, it's also a very funny play because - as is often the case when you are examining big issues - people are posturing themselves as being one thing and then doing something quite different.”
The questions asked by Admissions have resonated with Sarah as she did not grow up in a privileged background.
“I came from a single parent family and I got a full grant to go to college and I got grants to do youth theatre - so those were big components of me being able to do what I did. If that hadn’t been available, I don’t think I would have gone to college, no.
“I originally trained in musical theatre and when I wanted to retrain as an actor that wasn’t an option financially. I think you are aware that for children who don't come from well-off family background, or families with disposable income who can say yes get a train to London or you might need certain clothes for an audition, it is not very fair.
“I hope it doesn’t dilute the industry so we only have people of a certain class playing everybody. I don’t think that is what we want as an industry - I think we want a representation of all of our society and that should be all walks of life.
“I am a huge fan of youth theatres - I think they are an amazing place for young people to learn about acting and I worry that children don't have access to that and what comes after any more.”
In her - limited - spare time, Sarah has been writing her own comedy show. She says it would be ‘a little darker’ than the sitcom, Miranda, that made her famous but credits Miranda with starting a trend for women’s comedy.
She says: “Everyone is so inspired by the amazing Phoebe Waller Bridge and Daisy Haggard and Sharon Horgan, and all these brilliantly talented women. I mean, obviously, they are all geniuses but it is really encouraging to see brilliant women out there creating their own work and starring in it. And I think Miranda paved the way.
“It was nearly 10 years ago now and I think that is why it was such a shock that it was so successful because it was buried away on BBC 2. And you had these four, big, female characters - which was very unusual.
“It was hugely popular because it spoke to so many women about not having to be perfect and about the kind of female friendship where you can get everything wrong, you can not be cool, you can not be sexy, you can not be good at anything in particular, but you can have an amazing friendship and have a really lovely life. It doesn't mean if you are not perfect that you are this miserable person having an awful life. Life is about friendship and having a good time and being happy.
“Miranda was a real pioneer for women's comedy and she revived that traditional sitcom and showed it still can be really popular, along with and with slapstick as well.
We were really shocked the first time we filmed it in front of a studio audience and were flabbergasted at the way they reacted. I remember the first time Miranda said ‘I'm going to push you off a stool’.
“I said ‘What? Why is that going to be funny?’ But the first time we did it everyone really laughed.”
After that, Sarah’s character Stevie was regularly pushed over. Was she ever hurt? “I was never injured,” says Sarah. “We had crash mats and we worked out a way for me to land where I never got hurt.
“Ironically it was always Miranda who was covered in bruises and I never was. But she bruises like a peach! She looked like she had done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, meanwhile I was fine.”
Sarah says the women from the cast have remained close: “We are all really good friends - Miranda, Patricia Hodge and Sally are all so very dear friends and it was a really special show.
“I was with Sally and Patricia last week and we all went for lunch together. I think it does give people a shock to see us, as it always does when you see people from a show in real life.
“Recently, Miranda and I were going to film something for Comic Relief and we were on a plane to Uganda. I was obviously struggling to get a bag into an overhead locker and people on the plane thought we were filming for the show. But it was just us being shambolic in actual real life.”
Admissions is on at the Cambridge Arts Theatre Monday, June 3 until Saturday, June 8. Tickets from £25. Box office cambridgeartstheatre.com or call 01223 503333.