“I think it is important for you to discover your true feelings about your position at this moment”
It took seeing it again to remind me, but Tom Kempinki’s exquisitely moving two-hander Duet for One is one of my favourite plays. I simply adored the Almeida’s 2009 production which starred Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman and so when a new touring version directed by Robin Hurford was announced, I was keen to see if I could make it. As it turns out and I don’t know who is responsible for these things, it is a rather limited tour with only 2 of 11 venues north of Cambridge. And it is doubly a shame as this is an excellent piece of theatre that deserves to be seen by more than the small crowd that made it to this midweek matinee.
Haydn Gwynne takes on the role of Stephanie Abrahams, a concert violinist whose diagnosis with multiple sclerosis has had a devastating impact on her life, not that she is ready to admit it. Now wheelchair-bound and under her husband’s advisement, she starts seeing William Gaunt’s Albert Feldman, a psychiatrist who attempts to start the painful process of dealing with her new situation, what it means for her life going forward and how experiences of her past also have their part to play in her current emotional state.
The play takes the form of a series of sessions between the pair and we follow Stephanie through her initial reluctance, her enduring scepticism, her heart-breaking revelations and the shattering realisation of just how important music is in her life now that she is no longer able to play her beloved violin. Gwynne evokes this journey with a simply sensational performance full of deep intelligence, wry but brittle humour and a searchingly raw emotion. There’s a beautiful economy to her work, meaning the stillness and silences that punctuate her outbursts speak just as loudly as her words, especially in the agonising delving into her thoughts of suicide.
Feldman may be a less showy part – Gaunt often goes as far as partially turning his back on the audience when in listening mode – but it is no less moving as his love of classical music binds him perhaps a little closer to this case than most, allowing himself to be tested more than usual. Gaunt also has the wonderful gift of being able to act volumes with silence and so the confrontational scenes between this pair spark with a real charge. Hurford’s direction is beautifully measured, allowing two top class actors to really shine in a piece of powerfully evocative writing.