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Review: A Pupil at Park Theatre

PUBLISHED: 10:59 08 November 2018 | UPDATED: 11:10 08 November 2018

Flora Spencer-Longhurst and Lucy Sheen in A Pupil at Park Theatre. Picture: Meurig Marshall.

Flora Spencer-Longhurst and Lucy Sheen in A Pupil at Park Theatre. Picture: Meurig Marshall.

Meurig Marshall Photography

David Winskill thoroughly enjoys “a special play which deserves full houses” courtesy of Jesse Briton.

Lucy Sheen in A Pupil at Park Theatre. Picture: Meurig Marshall.Lucy Sheen in A Pupil at Park Theatre. Picture: Meurig Marshall.

As an opening scene, it is about as bleak as theatre can get.

A woman in a wheelchair, mismatched socks and bird’s nest hair, is in a squalid north London flat and gloomily arranging tidy little tubs of Paracetamol next to a bottle of Scotch to wash them down.

Ye (Lucy Sheen, in a committed, raw and compelling performance) is a violinist and was a child protégé. Following a horrific car crash she rarely plays, is mobility impaired and lives with a depressive illness.

Her landlady Mary (Alleluia for the excellent Melanie Marshall) is worried about her and is trying to get Ye to apply for jobs. Mary has faith in the Lord but also in tough love.

Flora Spencer-Longhurst in A Pupil at The Park Theatre. Picture: Meurig Marshall.Flora Spencer-Longhurst in A Pupil at The Park Theatre. Picture: Meurig Marshall.

Phyllida calls: glam, successful and an old chum from the Conservatoire (or Conservatwarrrh as it must be called). Phyllida wants Ye to accept a pupil and coach her for an entrance exam to the Conservatoire. The pupil’s father is very very rich so there is money in it but, looking down the throat of the gift horse, the curmudgeonly Ye only agrees reluctantly and imposes strict conditions.

So, into her grim existence walks 17-year-old Simona: all teenage languor, anger and lip, she is a neglected child with behavioural problems. They spar at first and then, gradually, they hit it off. Ye recognises Simona’s precocious musical talent and Simona recognises a kindred spirit. In a glorious moment of epiphany through movement Ye coaches Simona in the difference between copying and creation.

Over the 90 minutes of this wonderful, insightful and uplifting (but not schmaltzy) work the audience paid rapt attention as writer Jesse Briton explored motivation and ambition, responsibility and excuse, excellence and whether performance without audience can stand alone for its own sake.

Flora Spencer-Longhurst was brilliant and had to lose 16 years to rediscover teenage angst. She learned well at National Youth Music Theatre as her performances on the violin (Bach, Beethoven and others) amply testified.

With more stage time, I felt that the resolution could have been better worked out but nevertheless this is a special play and deserves full houses.

4/5 Stars.

A Pupil is on at Park Theatre until Saturday November 24. For more details and tickes, visit their website.

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