DUET FOR ONE
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 26th September, 2017
Tom Kempinski’s famous play for two actors comes to Birmingham in this new production featuring reliable old hands, Oliver Cotton and Belinda Lang. Lang is Stephanie, a classical violinist whose career has been brought to an abrupt end by her encroaching multiple sclerosis. Cotton is Doctor Feldmann, the psychotherapist she visits even though she insists she doesn’t need to. Through a series of scenes showing her sessions with the doctor, we find out more about her as the truth is teased out – mainly through reading into her vehement denials. There is a sameness to the scenes: he sits and listens, she rants sarcastically, berating him and using her wheelchair for dramatic turns.
Yes, it’s rather funny as the spiked barbs fly and Feldmann punctures her fury with well-timed questions delivered deadpan, but as it goes on, I find that I don’t particularly care for this woman’s tragedy – the loss of her violin is more than being put out of a job, of course it is – but I haven’t warmed to her particularly, and as for him, well, apart from one unprofessional outburst in which it’s his turn to have a rant about his lot, Feldmann is a closed book.
So what can we take from it? Can we relate to a classical superstar whose parents ran an artisanal chocolate shop? “The meaning of life is life itself” – there is that. Life is more than merely occupying your time. True.
Lang and Cotton are in good form. After a couple more shows, maybe even in great form, as the dialogue becomes less slippery and performances tighten up. Lang is better when she’s mouthing off than during the more tearful moments and Cotton, with his enviable head of hair, listens like a hawk – if such a thing is possible.
Director Robin Lefevre works hard to keep things from becoming too static, getting Stephanie out of her wheelchair as much as possible and Feldmann too gets opportunities to stretch his legs. The play makes amateur analysts of us all; as we listen, we deduce what’s been going on, why she is the way she is, and perhaps we question what we would do if we were faced with this terrible disease or were similarly robbed of our way of life.
Inevitably, it’s a wordy piece, a radio drama with bookshelves and furniture. As the professional relationship between therapist and patient/customer develops and looks likely to unravel, we suspect Feldmann has been playing her like a fiddle all along.
Solidly performed and presented, more amusing than touching, Duet For One is worth a look, or rather, a listen.