Duet For One

Posted on: 11 June 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Tom Kempinski’s witty and gripping play Duet For One at the Vaudeville Theatre.


One woman’s struggle against overwhelming adversity provides the powerful theme of Tom Kempinski’s witty and gripping play Duet For One which has been revived in a superlative new production directed by Matthew Lloyd at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Stephanie Abrahams, a brilliant concert violinist who seemingly has it all, is forced to re-evaluate her life when struck down by multiple sclerosis.  Faced with a truth too difficult to comprehend she consults psychiatrist Dr. Feldmann and through a series of highly charged encounters is led to examine her deepest emotions and finally to consider a future without music.

Lloyd’s revival of this early eighties success which was inspired by the story of the cellist Jacqueline du Pre emerges as freshly minted as ever, with the duel between two razor sharp minds and the wry humour that underlines that relationship conveyed in a realistic and affecting way without any trace of mawkishness or sentimentality. 

The “duet for one” of the title is the protagonist’s journey of reluctant self-acknowledgement.  She is forced to come to terms with the implications of her condition not by slow degrees but in wild fits and starts from the initial pleasantries of her first encounter with the psychiatrist to eventual hostility and self-lacerating grief, and when Feldmann urges her to do battle with him, the duet for one becomes by the end a duet for two.

This production would not work as well as it does if it were not for two first-rate central performances by Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman, both actors at the height of their powers, as Stephanie Abrahams and Dr. Feldmann respectively, whose game of verbal cat and mouse becomes totally riveting.

This finally ends up by being not a depressing drama but ultimately a life-enhancing tribute to the human spirit.

By Laurence Green:

Where: Vaudeville Theatre

When: Plays until 1st August 2009.

Box Office: 0844 412 4663

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