The magnificent Tara FItzgerald and Maureen Beattie shine in an emotionally charged take on Duet For One at the Orange Tree Theatre
“Anyone of us is more qualified to speak than you because we have been there. We’re still there”
Tom Kempinski’s two-hander is probably one of my favourite plays – from the Almeida’s glorious production to a 2012 tour to a revival at Bolton’s Octagon, it has attracted some serious talent in its pairings of Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman, Haydn Gwynne and William Gaunt, Clare Foster and Rob Edwards. The Orange Tree’s interpretation of Duet For One stands out though as the first ever to cast two women in its production – Tara Fitzgerald and Maureen Beattie.
Dating from 1980, the play remains sparklingly fresh in its exploration of the world of psychiatry. Stephanie’s universe is utterly rocked with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, her career as a world-renowned concert violinist taken from her. To help her work through this, she’s booked in with therapist Dr Feldmann against her will and we visit six of her sessions to see whether she can achieve the necessary breakthrough, to accept this change, to accept the very notion of psychiatry.
Richard Beecham’s production revolves slowly on Simon Kenny’s circular set, an equitable arena unafraid of stillness and silence as these two women face off. Fitzgerald beautifully inhabits all of Stephanie’s spiky truculence, unwilling to accept the process until she finally moves to a place of acknowledgement. And taking her on that journey, Beattie’s Feldmann is full of subtle strength, astute enough to understand the path needed to encourage Stephanie’s sharing, human enough to show how hard it can be.
The shift in gender is a fascinating one which shifts the emotional terrain for Stephanie, particularly where her parents are concerned. Beecham’s most telling intervention proves to be the introduction of a violinist to play Oliver Vibrans’ compositions in the scene changes, a devastating embodiment of just what Stephanie is losing through her illness. Even without my predisposition to the play and these actors, this is still a stirring, soul-searching theatrical wonder.