Review: A Pupil, Park Theatre

Strong performances from Lucy Sheen and Flora Spencer-Longhurst make Jesse Briton’s A Pupil an interesting watch at the Park Theatre

“No instrument is more important than the player”

What price genius? We’re often subjected to portrayals of (usually male) creative masterminds that pay little mind to the havoc wrought in the name of their chosen subject. So it is instructive to see the script flipped a bit by Jesse Briton with his new play A Pupil. From its opening moments as former violinist Ye lines up the bottles of pills and whiskey she hopes will end her life, there’s little sugercoating of the weight that talent can bring to bear.

It wasn’t always thus, and it needn’t continue to be. Ye’s involvement in a car crash left her physically incapacitated but she’s slowly mending with the help of landlady Mary. And former colleague Phyllida has lined up a tutoring job for her, helping to prepare the daughter of a Russian oligarch for an audition to the Royal Conservatoire where she teaches. But is talent something that can be nurtured, whether by individuals or by institutions, and is it ever really worth it? Continue reading “Review: A Pupil, Park Theatre”

Review: The Scar Test, Soho Theatre

“I just – I can’t believe this is England”

Hannah Khalil’s intelligent exploration of the Israeli-Palestine conflict Scenes from 68* Years was one of my top-ranked plays of last year and so I was delighted to be able to see her new play The Scar Test, albeit in the oppressive, claustrophobic heat of the Soho Upstairs at the height of summer. And with that knowledge of at least some of Khalil’s theatrical style, it was a pleasure to be able to sink into her idiosyncratic storytelling and be so thoroughly challenged by its subject matter.

Here, Khalil has turned her focus to the experience of female detainees at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre and the many, many indignities suffered by those trying to work their way through the knots and prejudices of our immigration system. And as with that previous play, multiple verbatim strands are splintered into non-linear episodes, some coalescing into something approaching an overall arc, some disappearing into the ether, forgotten victims neglected by us all. Continue reading “Review: The Scar Test, Soho Theatre”

Review: Snow in Midsummer, Swan

“Why do you silence me?”

A break from the old routine for the RSC here, with a play from the 13th century. Not only that, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s Snow in Midsummer is an adaptation of Yuan dynasty drama The Injustice Done to Dou E by Guan Hanqing, marking a key milestone in the venerable institution’s avowed change of policy after the The Orphan of Zhao debacle in 2012. Transplanting the narrative into contemporary China, Cowhig and director Justin Audibert smash the ancient and the modern together to startling effect.

Dou Yi (Katie Leung) was a young widow executed for murder in the industrial town of New Harmony, proclaiming her innocence all the while and cursing the community in her final moments. The play starts properly three years later with her curse having come to pass, drought has devastated the area and local factories are on the brink of closure, Dou Yi’s spirit restlessly haunting them all, determinedly awaiting exoneration. A newly arrived businesswoman (Wendy Kweh) scents a takeover but as her young daughter’s dreams take a disturbing turn, she can’t help but get sucked into this world. Continue reading “Review: Snow in Midsummer, Swan”

Review: Hidden, Royal Court

“Where are you from?
No, where you from?
Where are you really from?”

Live Lunch is an intermittent series at the Royal Court which acts as a showcase for writers both new and established to delve into under-explored areas of drama. In this instance, a group of playwrights were commissioned to create short plays with British East Asian experiences at the heart of their stories and the result is Hidden, six dramas “exploding myths, questioning types and discovering hidden narratives” of a section of the population who are chronically under-represented in British cultural life. Directed by Lucy Morrison, a company of eight actors gave two lunchtime readings of the programme.

There’s something rather awe-inspiring about the rehearsed reading format. With barely three hours of rehearsal for each piece and scripts in hand, there’s a rawness to the performance level which enhances it somewhat, the occasional stumble over words giving some of the texts a believably natural feel. And seeing the speed with which the actors traverse grand emotions as they flick from play to play is truly admirable, Lourdes Faberes particularly impressing in casting off a tear-soaked character to move swiftly to the studied enigma of the next. Continue reading “Review: Hidden, Royal Court”

Short Film Review: The Orphan of Zhao Redux

“What can ordinary people do?”

Based on The Great Revenge of the Orphan of Zhao by Ji Junxiang and mixing in texts from numerous other writers, Daniel York’s The Orphan of Zhao Redux is a most enchanting thing indeed. The play is perhaps sadly most notorious, in recent years at least, for being at the centre of a controversy when the RSC cast just three East Asian actors in minor roles (out of seventeen in total) in what has been known as the Chinese Hamlet, such is the piece’s significance. But York fully wrests ownership away from such unsavouriness to produce a gorgeous eight minute short that is a brilliant showcase for what might have been.

The film features fourteen leading lights of the British East Asian acting scene, the narrative scattered between them all and the text reshaped into something of a poem as just as much feeling as storytelling emerges through the individual lines. Ikin Yum’s stunning monochrome cinematography has been astutely edited by Andrew Koji and the beautifully evocative music underscores the whole affair with just the right level of intrigue and emotion. Not knowing the play didn’t matter a jot, the film stirs something elemental – especially in its haunting final minute – and had me thoroughly hooked from the start. Continue reading “Short Film Review: The Orphan of Zhao Redux”