Review: Duet for One, Octagon Theatre


“I think it is important for you to discover your true feelings about your position at the moment”

If we’re making lists about our favourite plays, I would have to say that Tom Kempinski’s Duet for One would be guaranteed a place in the top ten, if not higher. The Almeida’s 2009 production was exemplary and the touring version from 2012 proved it was no one hit wonder for me so the announcement of Bolton’s Octagon Theatre mounting the show in rep with another Kempinski play – Separation – was too much to resist.

The play is loosely based on Jacqueline Du Pré’s battle with the multiple sclerosis that ended her career as a brilliant cellist and takes the form of a series of therapy sessions between Stephanie Abrahams, a haughty violinist who also has MS and her therapist Dr Feldmann. Kempinski tenderly explores the horrors of the psychological as well as the physical effects of such a debilitating condition, asking of us all what we would do if rendered unable to do what we loved the most.

As Stephanie, Clare Foster is excellent. Younger than the actresses I’ve previously seen take on the role, she really goes for the jugular in displaying all of the spikiness of a wealthy, top-tier artist who has previously been immune from the harshness of real life, only slowly revealing the layers of humanity that are exposed by her condition, the mood swings that she has to surrender to as she finally comes to accept that she can no longer play her beloved violin, something that had become an extension of her very self.

And against her, Rob Edwards plays Feldmann with the right level of balance. Initially the passive listener trying to draw out his patient’s story, the second act sees him come into his own as he struggles with the hopelessness of her situation and the powerlessness he feels. Director Elizabeth Newman imbues the production with a remarkable physical energy given the essentially static nature of these encounters and even manages to mostly deal with the difficulty of the in-the-round setting.

I still love the play and heartily recommend it. And if the opportunity presents itself, I would also try to see Separation as a companion piece which really complements the whole experience.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Ian Tilton
Booking until 10th May

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