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.
Startling physical presence and thoroughly-analysed motives for behaviour.
A bright idea of the Octagon, to pair Tom Kempinski’s famous 1980 play Duet for One in repertory with Separation from seven years later. Separation is based on the playwright’s experience when a disabled female American actor asked for permission to do a small-scale production of Duet.
As the earlier play’s female character spends her time in a wheelchair, it was a fine opportunity for a still-young performer with limited mobility to take a lead role. Kempinski’s playwright Joe Green says yes; then the complications arise.
What follows is a telephonic 84, Charing Cross Road, a series of remote conversations between America and England. But with much more angst. While Duet explored its author’s mental condition, it was refracted through circumstances focussing attention on ’disabled cellist Jacqueline du Pré (who died in the year Separation appeared).
In Separation, Joe Green is more clearly his author. Both became agoraphobic, hardly able to step outside the house; both put on tremendous amounts of weight. Both needed treatment to find their way through. All that was added to life was a love-affair of sorts between the characters.
This biographical closeness is often penetrating (this is the work of a dramatic craftsman, not uncontrolled therapeutic writing). And Rob Edwards is terrifying in the night-time panic-attack as he rings for help. Yet the identity with the author can run close to self-regard, which the performance doesn’t altogether disguise.
Edwards provides the astonishing work in Duet; here it’s Clare Foster’s Sarah. So agonisingly detailed is her struggle to walk a few steps with despoiled muscles you hold your breath hoping there’s some physio expertise to help the performer regain her usual stance.
What’s clear too is the sense of life – the air-punch of success as she gets the rights to the play, the intelligent perception of Green’s contorted motives in his subsequent behaviour. If he is a projection of Kempinski, the self-portrait’s hardly rose-tinted. But Foster’s Sarah represents life itself, adversity included. And Elizabeth Newman’s twin productions show she thoroughly deserves a place in the Octagon’s dramatic repertoire beyond the outriders of Christmas and end-of-season musicals.
Joe Green: Rob Edwards.
Sarah Wise: Clare Foster.
Director: Elizabeth Newman.
Designer: Amanda Stoodley.
Lighting: Wayne Dowdeswell.
Sound: Gerry Marsden.
Movement/Associate director: Lesley Hutchison.
Assistant director: Amy Liptrott.