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Duet For One

Published 30 January 2009

When your entire life has been focused around one aim, one goal, one experience, how can you cope when that is taken away?

This is the question at the heart of Tom Kempinski’s Duet For One, revived at the Almeida theatre starring Henry Goodman and Juliet Stevenson.

Stevenson plays Stephanie Abrahams, a successful concert violinist, who finds her life’s work disappearing when she developes multiple sclerosis. Unable to play any more, her worried husband, a famous composer, sends her to see psychiatrist Dr Feldman (Goodman). Over the course of half a dozen scenes, the extent of Stephanie’s loss is explored through the patient/doctor experience.

For much of the first half, Goodman’s psychiatrist plays the supporting role, the passive foil to Stevenson’s depressive, volatile Stephanie, teasing out confessions as the extent to which music was the very epicenter of her life and key to almost every relationship, becomes apparent. Stevenson, for the most part wheelchair-bound and acting from the waist up, progresses from denial to anger in textbook fashion. Goodman’s reduced, still performance, packed with pauses and noiseless gestures, allows Stevenson room to take centre stage.

The second half sees Goodman come alive, exposing a little of the shielded psychiatrist’s character in a desperate bid to make the truth apparent to his client. A stark contrast to the beginning of the piece, this performance lends depth to the doctor, rather than leaving him to play second fiddle to Stevenson’s virtuoso.

Duet For One is a play rife with emotion; a character examination of obsession, determination, control, independence and loss. The doctor/patient dialogue, set in Lez Brotherston’s inviting study set rammed with CDs, records, books and pot plants, demands pared down physical performances, free from wild action, focusing instead on two people locked in the most intimate and painful of relationships where the slightest wrong turn could be fatal. It allows each action, each inflection, each potent glance between Goodman and Stevenson to resonate meaning around the Almeida theatre’s intimate auditorium.

MA

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