Saturday 24th November 2018, matinée
To be fair, the publicity for this play does not offer a barrel of laughs. We are told that the story starts with a ‘disgraced former violinist’, Ye, preparing to take her life when she is interrupted by the prospect of a new pupil. We’d like to say that hilarity ensues, but it seems that this glimpse of hope is just the precursor to further despair.
We do not learn much about Ye, but her pupil, Simona, is a self-taught violinist, an apparent prodigy who cannot read music, but has learnt by imitating musicians on youtube. More importantly she happens to be the daughter of a Russian multi-millionaire – he wants her to get into a top music conservatoire, she only wants to be taught by Ye. With her landlady threatening to evict and no other means of support, Ye reluctantly takes on the challenge.
We do sometimes think it would be nice to see a portrayal of a music teacher who wasn’t a complete sadist. Not here, unfortunately. Lucy Sheen does a fantastic job of portraying the teacher from hell who rules with a rod of iron but expects 100% commitment, heart and soul. She is more than a match for the spoilt rich kid, who annoyingly turns out to be genuinely talented.
Overall the play is dramatically well constructed and engaging. The ever-shifting power relationships are well portrayed and this is an interesting theme – how do we measure talent? What does it mean to teach and to learn? Unfortunately this is not fully explored in the play. Although the characters are intriguing and in the case of Melanie Marshall’s landlady, entertaining, they are mostly underwritten, particularly Ye, and without wanting to second-guess the ending, there is ultimately no real pay-off.
Flora Spencer-Longhurst delivers a virtuoso performance, with a musical delivery which is enough to convince these lay audience members that she might be a child prodigy, but just as impressive is her acting performance, portraying the mercurial intensity of the adolescent who doesn’t yet know what to do with her gift.