A Pupil is a brand new play premiering at the Park Theatre starring Lucy Sheen as disgraced music maverick Ye. We take a look at the teacher, student relationship, how a British East Asian actor has been cast in a main role with no stereotype in sight and the process of developing the character to ensure an authentic story is told.
The play is collision of classical music and new writing, A Pupil centres around the relationship between Ye and Simona. With Ye no longer able to perform, struggling with a life without music and on a path to destruction; all of this changes when she encounters wealthy, misunderstood and unruly heiress Simona – the two embark on a journey of discovery and music.
Lucy Sheen plays a conflicted Ye, as a musician who once had it all; the accolades, the praise and the electric performances; it’s a delicate portrayal of the internal struggles of a successful individual. The adjustment period is well documented following the highs of a glittering career in sports, on stage or on screen and how waves of emotion can cloud their judgement, descending into spirals of negativity.
Writer Jesse Briton set out working on this play in 2012, following some time in Hong Kong which led to his main inspiration, a violinist called Crystal who shared her story with him. Keen to explore the teacher, student relationship due to this personal account shared and Jesse’s upbringing as a child of teachers, he set out to write an archetype on stage that was a true, authentic representation and avoided stereotype. So many times on stage and screen when there is an East Asian cast, we are presented with ‘tiger parenting’ the hands on parenting that makes life difficult for a child due the high expectations of studies, life and extra-curricular activity. With this in mind, Briton set out to flip this dynamic and look at what the impact is on this obsessive nature of music and how this manifests itself in someone later in life and continued his exploration of the lives of real-life musicians and artists of East Asian heritage to help inform his creation.
During the development process, the dynamic of an all-female cast clicked following the rehearsal reading process, refining the script and interrogating how the dynamics change the story for the audience – a key part of ensuring that these archetypes do not become stereotypical and offer a true representation was the creative team working closely with the cast to ensure that their feedback, their experiences and lives were included in forming the living character on stage. Jesse Briton commented that, working closely with the actors was integral to the process to ensure that the characters seen on stage are reflective of the world in which they and we live in.
What’s great to see in A Pupil is that an actor of East Asian heritage has been placed in a lead role where the character is able to exist with a full array of emotions, behaviours and actions not defined by their heritage alone. In a world where the roles available to older women are limited, and the situation is even more dire for women of colour; it’s a breath of fresh air to see the dynamic between these women unfold on stage. If more creative teams could take into account the experiences of its cast, use a more nuanced approach to developing their characters and working closely with people who better represent the community they are reflecting, we would begin seeing a more accurate representation of the East Asian community on stage and on screen.
BEATS have organised a special discount for the final performances of A Pupil. Use promo code: FINALCALL for £14 tickets.
Bear Trap and Kosky Productions in association with Park Theatre present the World Premiere of A Pupil until 24 November – details and bookings: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/a-pupil
Find out more about BEATS: http://wearebeats.org.uk