DUET FOR ONE
by Tom Kempinski.
Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB In rep to 10 May 2014.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 May.
The quiet man triumphs in Bolton revival.
When Tom Kempinski’s Duet for One appeared in 1980 it was widely assumed that Stephanie Abrahams, the violinist whose concert career has been cut short by multiple sclerosis, represented the predicament of outstanding young British ’cellist Jacqueline du Pré.
Du Pré was still alive, but unable to play as the illness increasingly destroyed nerves and muscles. (Now another ’cellist, Julian Lloyd Webber, has been forced into retirement by his physical condition.) For Stephanie, inability to play music means losing the central point of life.
Kempinski must have been aware the comparison would be made. But, prompted by it or not, he was writing about his own disabling condition, part physical but essentially psychological. And the duet – or duel – is one person’s interior struggle, even more than a tussle between patient and therapist.
In her verbal attacks against the German-born psychiatrist whose sessions with her form the play, Stephanie is struggling through layers of self-deception and defensive aggression, while being guided towards a reason to survive. It is a battle between life and death.
Her anger, sarcasm and hostility are clear in Clare Foster’s performance. It’s a shame, though, director Elizabeth Newman didn’t help Foster reach beyond the glacial, brisk upper-class tones to a wider expressive range. When she does go beyond this manner, as in her cry of agony before the interval, a new depth opens-up.
Newman efficiently stages scenes so members of the audience, seated all round, can see the characters from all angles, though the paucity of furniture makes Feldmann’s office seem sparse, as he balances notes on his knees.
Yet Rob Edwards gives a quietly outstanding performance. Calm and controlled, apparently ignoring his patient’s attacks, he gradually leads us beyond the professional manner into deeply-held convictions. Stephanie is the more openly theatrical part, but Edwards gives the doctor dramatic depth as equal partner in the drama, rather than merely cueing her outbursts.
Feldmann guides matters each time, often through silence. Which makes his impassioned argument for life, in response to her flippancy-coated despair, stand out. Certainly in Edwards’ performance, where professional manner and personal conviction memorably combine.
Dr Alfred Feldmann: Rob Edwards.
Stephanie Abrahams: Clare Foster.
Director: Elizabeth Newman.
Designer: Amanda Stoodley.
Lighting: Wayne Dowdeswell.
Sound: Gerry Marsden.
Movement/Associate director: Lesley Hutchison.
Assistant director: Amy Liptrott.