Jesse Briton’s new play A Pupil, tells the story of Ye, once a great violinist, now a jaded tutor, as she struggles with her tempestuous Russian protégé.
It feels a bit like a stage version of Damien Chazelle’s 2014 Oscar-winning film Whiplash. Except instead of being about the drums, it’s about the violin. And instead of starring JK Simmons, it stars Lucy Sheen, who just doesn’t have the requisite level of charisma to pull off the role of the tyrannical, cynical, wheelchair-using musical genius.
The result is wincingly awkward. The play sets out to explore questions about perfection and passion, but gets bogged down in cliché, melodrama and pseudo BS about musical greatness.
Jessica Daniels’ production also contains a degree of iffy stereotyping. Fiona Spencer-Longhurst’s Simona, the Russian tutee, is a brattish billionaire’s daughter with a strained accent, while Mary, the landlord, is a naive black woman who loves singing songs about Jesus.
Jessica Staton’s in-the-round design is pretty cool – an almost-bare stage, overhung by dozens of shattered violins on strings. There are also a few arresting moments. When Simona finally gets round to cranking out some tunes, for example. Or when she smashes a cheap instrument to pieces on the floor.
But that explosion is about as thrilling as things get in this limp production.