Duet for One review at Richmond Theatre, London – ‘compellingly cerebral’
Shot through with elegance and icy restraint, this touring remount of Tom Kempinski’s stingingly insightful Duet for One feels every bit as poised and fragile as its protagonist. While the story of a brilliant musician undergoing therapy following a career-ending diagnosis of MS inescapably echoes the life of Jacqueline du Pre, its thoughtful examination of loss is grippingly universal.
Belinda Lang is excellent as frosty, frustrated violinist Stephanie, her ferocious self-possession fracturing under each incisive jab from her therapist. Every scene strips something from her, and each mounting loss is made apparent through small changes in costume and posture. If her occasional, overly-careful falls to the floor lack a believable force, the visceral suffering she conveys is absolutely convincing.
Meanwhile, Oliver Cotton is admirably reserved as Doctor Feldmann, a character whose thick German accent and pointed non sequiturs could easily feel cliched. His sole outburst, where he rails against his client’s growing despair, feels at once furious and somehow heroic.
Director Robin Lefevre fills each scene with brisk movement – Lang stretches uncomfortably, kicks off her shoes, and surges about the space in her electric wheelchair. Lez Brotherston’s set is sumptuously naturalistic, a decorous office of sea green walls and shelves stacked with old records.
Given the show’s subject, it is perhaps disappointing that the production’s use of music rarely goes beyond brief bursts of throbbing strings during the scene changes. Nevertheless, the play remains a moving elegy to human endurance and to the transfiguring power of music.