Tag Archives: Jessica Staton

A Pupil – 4 Stars

A Pupil

A Pupil

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 5th November 2018


“Flora Spencer-Longhurst, as Simona, is a real theatrical force”


We are in a run-down bedsit, somewhere in London. Half empty whisky bottles compete with discarded manuscript papers for floor space, and swathes of broken violins hang from the rafters. Just as broken is Ye; a former child prodigy. A virtuoso violinist. A victim of a near-fatal car crash that has left her in a wheel chair. A victim of her own jaded view of her success.

The publicity blurb describes this character as suicidal, but Lucy Sheen’s portrayal of Ye yields many, many more dimensions than that. Her deadpan misanthropy, perfectly nuanced, immediately tells the audience that there is a painful backstory here. Yet writer, Jesse Briton, does not allow for any self-pitying clichés in her well-toned script that pitches sharp comedy in perfect harmony with the flattened dreams of its protagonist.

In walks Simona, the spoilt daughter of a Russian billionaire, who has reluctantly been sent by her father for violin lessons. Like cats with bristled tails they are both on the defensive and, more so, the offensive. But forced into this unlikely allegiance, the pair embark on a journey that sees them chip away at each other until some harsher lessons are learnt.

Flora Spencer-Longhurst, as Simona, is a real theatrical force. She manages to transform the character’s teenage spoilt brat into one of fierce independence with a passion for understanding. She starts out breaking a violin and ends up breaking our hearts.

At the heart of A Pupil is the nature of friendship and the conflict of what constitutes success, both in musical and material terms. In a poignant scene Ye explains to her protégé that a priceless violin is worthless in itself. In parallel she concludes her childhood friend Phyllida’s (Carolyn Backhouse) musical success is equally lacking in value because the integrity is missing. Backhouse’s strong and assuredly cool performance gives the counter argument. What good is Ye’s own virtuosity if she can’t pay the rent? The audience is left to make up its own mind.

Yet the strength of Jessica Daniels’ production lies in the fact we are never aware that these ideologies are being explored. It is a very human story underscored with love. Love that is tested to its limits so that the strings are always in danger of snapping. What saves it are the brilliantly staccato notes of humour. The teenage Simona, who cannot read music, interprets the ‘sharp’ symbol on a manuscript as ‘hashtag’. And there’s a show stealing performance from Melanie Marshall as Mary, the long-suffering landlady perpetually chanting the hymn “Lord of the Dance”, while hilariously chastising all around her with a down to earth no-nonsense reasoning.

I’ve been reluctant to draw attention to it until now, as it seems fairer to leave it as a surprise, but I feel I cannot avoid mentioning the live music – a mixture of classical pieces and original compositions by Colin Sell. Spencer-Longhurst’s musicianship is a revelation. “If you have the ability to move other people, there’s nothing else that really compares” she recently said in an interview.

Maybe that is the true nature of success, in which case this production wins all round. Despite a slightly undetermined ending A Pupil is a heartfelt portrayal of discordant souls looking for that resolution from dissonance to consonance.

“They cut me down and I leapt up high;
I am the life that’ll never, never die.
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me:
I am the Lord of the dance, said he.”


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Meurig Marshall


A Pupil

Park Theatre until 24th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
There or Here | ★★★½ | January 2018
A Princess Undone | ★★★ | February 2018
Passage to India | ★★★ | February 2018
Vincent River | ★★★★ | March 2018
Pressure | ★★★★ | April 2018
Building the Wall | ★★★★ | May 2018
End of the Pier | ★★★★ | July 2018
The Rise & Fall of Little Voice | ★★★★ | August 2018
Distance | ★★★★ | September 2018
The Other Place | ★★★ | September 2018
And Before I Forget I Love You, I Love You | ★★★★ | October 2018
Dangerous Giant Animals | ★★★ | October 2018
Honour | ★★★ | October 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com


Eros – 2 Stars



White Bear Theatre

Reviewed – 30th August 2018


“There are certainly moments that have potential, where the dramatic tension begins to draw you in, but unfortunately, these are few”


Click. Flash. Boom. A picture is worth a thousand words. As the saying goes. With a press of a button, a moment can be encapsulated forever – a piece of reality on film. But what happens when reality has been manipulated to supply a fantasy? What happens when the fantasy wants to take over? Eros makes a good attempt at dealing with the notion of consent within the art world, but fails to delve as far as it could have gone.

Ross was once a well-known photographer, capturing stunning women. He says he took photos to depict the art of beauty. Kate, a previous model and love affair of Ross remembers things differently, in front of the lens. Kate makes a surprise visit to Ross’ studio, after twenty years apart, and now she is looking for answers and justice for what he did. Terri, a young runaway who has recently been living in the studio in exchange for doing odd jobs, finds it hard to believe the past of a man she has come to know as only showing her pure kindness.

Living in an era where historical sexual assault or ‘sexploitation’ cases have risen to the surface, Eros seems, on paper, to be a highly relevant piece of theatre. Playwright Kevin Mandry makes a thought-provoking decision of setting the play in the nineties, a good twenty years before the recent eruption of people bravely stepping forward, illustrating our change in attitude to dealing with such matters of physical or mental abuse. Back then, only small steps were being made. If the play was set in present day, I’m sure the character Kate would go to the police.

What comes across as odd within the play is the dynamic between Kate and Ross. One minute Kate is filled with hatred towards Ross for his past behaviour, the next, she is reminiscing the old times, drinking, dancing, laughing. It would be understandable if this was a tactic Kate uses to push Ross into a false sense of security. If this was Mandry’s intention, it certainly does not come across this way. Instead, the character arc just seems confused with Kate’s motives not ever being clear.

Felicity Jolly as Terri offers the most genuine performance, giving a believable turn as a naïve, confused, young woman, seeing only the best in people. Stephen Riddle and Anna Tymoshenko as Ross and Kate have moments of true connection, which you can’t take your eyes off of, however, most of the time, dialogue feels forced, as they stiffly move about the stage as placed by the director (Stephen Bailey).

As previously mentioned, Eros seems to tick the right boxes on paper, yet fails to deliver the goods in its execution. What could have been a tense, high-stakes psychological drama, set in the claustrophobic studio, ends up being rather lack-lustre. There are certainly moments that have potential, where the dramatic tension begins to draw you in, but unfortunately, these are few. A provocative idea that misses the mark.


Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Stephanie Claire Photography



White Bear Theatre until 15th September



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com