Jesse Briton’s play examines what success and talent really means, brought perfectly to life in Jessica Daniels production. 

Flora Spencer-Longhurst (Simona) in A Pupil - Park Theatre. Photography by Meurig Marshall.jpg
(c) Meurig Marshall.

Intertwining classical music with an unexpected  friendship, Jesse Briton’s ‘A Pupil’ is a lively and confrontational drama that asks what success and talent really means.

The play opens with formerly successful violinist Ye about to take her own life – but the unexpected arrival of Simona, a talented and wealthy student, changes her plans immensely. After a very hostile beginning, the pair embark on a series of lessons that have them questioning everything that they thought about themselves and what they knew.

But while the pair are learning about themselves, the whole production is surrounded by references to music thanks to Jessica Staton’s beautiful set design complete with hanging violins and sheets of music all around the place and stunning pieces of music performed wonderfully by Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Simona. Even in the theatre, the audience is reminded of the power of the arts and how we can learn more about ourselves through them.

A Pupil - Park Theatre. Photography by Meurig Marshall.jpg
(c)Meurig Marshall. 

This is particularly captured in the moment when Ye encourages Simona to try and really feel the music and use it as way of expressing herself – initially through dancing. It is a beautiful and powerful moment, that is enhanced further by the gradual softness of Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting.

While the characters in Jesse Briton’s play have been excellently created, the story itself needs to be more clearly defined. While it is clear that both Simona and Ye have more in common than initially thought, their loneliness and isolation from the world reflected in the way they treat each other and those around them – there is no real journey for either of them and the play is left hanging, leaving the audience with questions that aren’t fully answered.

Directed by Jessica Daniels, the production features some brilliantly rich and diverse performances from its all-female cast. Melanie Marshall as Mary in particular offers plenty of light relief from Simona and Ye’s bickering. She portrays Mary as sharp, sassy and not willing to put up with any nonsense from anyone as seen when she berates Ye for not wanting to spend time with Simona.

Elsewhere, Flora Spencer-Longhurst is an unlikeable brat to begin with but when you get a sense of her isolation from her father and those at school, you get a glimpse of vulnerability that keeps the audience interested to see what she really takes from the lessons that Ye is giving her. Carolyn Backhouse is icy cool and levelheaded as Phyllida, a prominent figure at the Conservatoire that Simona has to audition for a place for. Lucy Sheen’s portrayal of Ye is a woman who has lost all hope and faith in the world as well as her talent – stubbornly refusing to help herself move forward with her life. It is a performance that is emotionally draining but fascinating to watch.

Overall, A Pupil is an engaging production to watch unfold with powerful performances – but the ending feels as though it leaves too many questions unsatisfactorily answered leaving  room for the play to develop further.

By Emma Clarendon

A Pupil will continue to play at the Park Theatre until the 24th November. For more information visit: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/a-pupil

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐