DUET FOR ONE
The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 17th May, 2019
Brand-new company, Aspect Theatre is doing the rounds with their production of Tom Kempinski’s acclaimed piece about a concert violinist who consults a psychiatrist when she is stricken with multiple sclerosis and is forced to change her life in all manner of ways. What could be timelier in Mental Health Awareness Week? The play consists of six scenes, each a different session. He, Dr Feldmann, is constant and unchanging; she, Stephanie Abrahams, runs the gamut from bitterness, anger, sarcasm, resentment…
It’s a showcase for both actors. As Stephanie, Katherine Parker-Jones gives us the arrogance and the sneering sarcasm, and yet somehow manages to evince our sympathies for this rarefied creature, when the defensive facades fall away, and we are allowed to see the human being brought low by this debilitating disease. Parker-Jones delivers lengthy monologues with truth and conviction, and while we laugh at her barbed remarks, we are ultimately moved by her predicament. Martin Bourne gives his Feldmann a gentle cadence rather than a strong Cherman accent, and the portrayal is all the better for it. He has to do a lot of listening-acting, maintaining professional detachment – when he finally flips his lid and puts Stephanie in her place, it may be a shock tactic on the psychiatrist’s behalf, but it’s an electrifying moment, to be sure.
The peril of this piece is that with one character confined to a wheelchair and the other taking notes behind his clipboard, proceedings can become too static. Director Marc W Dugmore avoids this problem in the close confines of the Attic Theatre, where it feels like we are in the consulting room alongside the characters. The intimacy means Dugmore can bring out the contrasts between the characters and between the sessions with subtlety and with broader moves, as the piece’s mood swings between comedy and tragedy. I’m not a fan, though, of the slow fade to spotlight whenever Stephanie launches into her longer speeches; I want to see Feldmann’s impassive expression and perhaps some betrayal of a reaction.
A straightforward, high quality production of a powerful piece. I’m looking forward to Aspect Theatre’s next show already.