ALEX KINGSTON is playing her cards close to her chest when it comes to talking about her new play, Admissions. But, she explains, even her co-stars are being kept in the dark. What we do know is that Alex plays Sherri, head of admissions at a posh private school in America, who is fighting to diversify the student intake. But when her son is in danger of losing out on a place at Yale to his friend who ‘ticks more boxes’, Sherri finds her personal ambition colliding with her progressive values.
‘I don’t think it’s helpful for the audience to have more information than that, as they should experience it for themselves without having any preconceptions,’ Alex tells us.
Furthermore, director Daniel Aukin has even ensured the actors don’t know everything about each other’s characters.
‘In rehearsals, Daniel talks to us individually and we’re not allowed to hear the conversations. We’re all holding our character cards close to our chests and I want to extend that to talking about the play in general so people form their own opinions.’
The 55-year-old is delighted to be starring in such a controversial work — the play generated plenty of conversation during its run at New York’s Lincoln Center.
‘There were some heated debates going on in the foyer when it was performed in New York and I hope it provokes that reaction here,’ says Alex. ‘It addresses a universal problem — it asks what’s fair and what isn’t when we deal with giving everyone an equal chance.’
Alex didn’t face any such cut-throat battle when it came to getting into university herself — because she didn’t go. ‘I was so bad at maths, I didn’t get maths O-Level or even CSE,’ she explains. ‘I couldn’t go to university as you needed basic maths — so my only option was drama school.’
Alex’s English teacher encouraged her interest in acting and she applied to RADA, winning a place after an audition which included a monologue from The Winter’s Tale and a recital of Sylvia Plath’s poem Daddy.
‘At school, I was a very dreamy student. There was a lot of looking out of the window. When I got to RADA, I was aware I was extremely lucky to get the opportunity and I wasn’t going to squander it,’ she says.
On graduating, Alex’s first job was playing a hedge sparrow in a children’s play, an inauspicious start, but she soon established a successful career on stage and TV, raising her profile in the starring role in saucy period drama The Fortunes And Misfortunes Of Moll Flanders in 1996. From there, she went on to appear as Dr Elizabeth Corday in hit US medical drama ER for seven years.
More recently, she played the Doctor’s companion River Song across six seasons of Doctor Who.
‘I still feel part of the Doctor Who family,’ says Alex. ‘I don’t think that ever goes away and I still play River Song in some Doctor Who audio recordings. She still feels part of my life. It was a fabulous experience. I’ve made some dear friends as a result of working on that. It’s nice to meet up with everyone at conventions.’
Why did River become such a fan favourite? ‘I wasn’t expecting her to become any sort of a role model because her morals and values are a bit dubious, but she has become a role model for girls. One mother told me it’s because her heart is in the right place, she doesn’t take sh*t from anyone, she’s a bit naughty and not perfect. And everyone can relate to that.’
Alex moved back to London from Los Angeles two years ago and hasn’t stopped working since. She can soon be seen in ITV thriller The Widow and is filming the second series of A Discovery Of Witches later this year.
Until then, she’s got a West End run and UK tour of Admissions to get through. ‘My character never leaves the stage, which is a fantastic challenge. I’m building up my stamina to carry it through for 90 minutes but I’m loving it,’ laughs Alex.
‘There’s a lot of humour in the play but it deals with a subject we mustn’t brush under the carpet. It’s important people discuss the issues we’re facing and we can discuss them through theatre — we have to keep the arts politically relevant.’
■ Admissions opens at Trafalgar Studios on Thursday and runs until May 25, before touring the UK, admissionsplay.com