Review: Duet for One by Tom Kempinski, Chichester Festival Theatre

Belinda Lang as Stephanie Abrahams in Duet for One. Photo: Robert Day
Belinda Lang as Stephanie Abrahams in Duet for One. Photo: Robert Day

It would be easy to think this was a portrayal of world-renowned cellist Jacqueline du Pre who had multiple sclerosis.

But as writer Kempinski makes clear in the programme notes, nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s a metaphor for his life.

The story-line is straightforward. Stephanie (Belinda Lang), a revered violinist is reliant on a wheelchair as she copes with multiple sclerosis.

Given that she can no longer play the instrument that not only dominated her life but defined her, she is persuaded by her husband to seek the help of Dr Feldman (Oliver Cotton).

The play takes place entirely in his consulting rooms over a number of meetings.

During that sweep of time we are treated to snapshots of Stephanie’s moods as the walls which contain her anger are slowly, sometimes brutally, dismantled.

Lang spares nothing in her performance - which dances darkly between raw emotion and bleak humour.

It’s easy to empathise too. The demons that haunt her - and Kempinski - routinely afflict the greater public too.

This production would have sat better in the Minerva and a poor turnout on the opening night heightened the sense that the space was too vast for trauma that is this personal and intense.

Rarely comfortable, it’s a tour de force in which Lang triumphs and Cotton quietly brings into sharp focus.