In the peaceful surroundings of the psychiatrist's office, a life and death struggle takes place for the soul of a damaged artist.
At its heart a Duet For One is a story of coming to terms with (or not) a new reality. The narrative is delivered entirely in conversations between our two protagonists: the virtuoso violinist Ms Stephanie Abrahams, whose career has been cut short by multiple sclerosis, and her psychiatrist Dr Feldmann. Ms Abrahams is guided through a journey from denial, through despair and into acceptance, but the process is hard and the destination uncertain.
Duet For One is a challenging play. It’s hard to perform, to direct and to react to. As an audience member, it's not clear if you are being invited to laugh, to contemplate or to sympathise. For the actors there is nowhere to hide as - with only two characters and few props, the drama must come solely from often one-sided conversations. The director, in turn, must contend with long silences, gesture, ambiguity and indeterminate gap between scenes. Tom Kempinski the playwright serves up a tough gig.
Belinda Lang (Ms Abrahams) and Jonathan Coy (Dr Feldmann) both had a hard job and did eventually rise admirably to the challenge. Initially, I felt the dialogue wasn't quite natural, with delivery not quite fitting the words. Interruptions weren't quite sharp enough and reactions were perhaps a little too considered. By the end of the first act though Lang and Coy had warmed up to their characters, and to each other, filling the previously calm setting with a captivating intensity. Both delivered their monologues with a gripping cadence and fierceness that kept the audience interested. At times things might have gone just a tiny bit too far, with intentionally childish outbursts being perhaps a shade too silly, or silent gestures being just a bit too telegraphed, but there is no doubt that the end result was a fully gripping performance.Like many difficult plays though it can be easy to point out where things were not perfect, if you take a step back it becomes apparent what an achievement it was. Duet for One left me with a lot to think about and a lot to discuss. My wife and I spent the whole journey home trying to analyse what things meant, what this costume change signified or what that tone of voice meant. After talking about them for twenty minutes it struck me that I was really interested in both Ms Abrahams and Dr Feldmann, their motivations, their pasts and their future. It seems that more difficult productions do indeed have their rewards.