Review: Duet for One at Cambridge Arts Theatre - played perfectly

Belinda Lang in Duet for One

Belinda Lang in Duet for One - Credit: Archant

It was always assumed that this beautifully written play was inspired by the life of the cellist Jacqueline du Pre who was struck down by multiple sclerosis and lost all that was dear to her. But in the programme for this latest, masterful production at Cambridge Arts Theatre, writer Tom Kempinski says it is actually a metaphor for his own life.

He says a series of unfortunate events, from The Second World War, which ended when he was aged seven, separations, deaths and evacuation left him with depression, rage and anxiety. He goes on to say he felt he had to suppress these feelings because he thought they would be a danger to his family.

Thus the play is about grief, loss and what you do with those feelings when they overwhelm you.

So it must be coincidence then that the play written in 1980 with just two characters has Stephanie, a violist disabled by MS and Dr Feldmann her psychiatrist.

At first we see a cheerful, stylish Stephanie, dressed in a bright, chic outfit, making the best of the situation. Ok, she can’t play any more, but she will teach, she will work as her husband’s secretary. He’s a composer, that will be ideal.


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But straight away, Dr Feldmann punches into her bubble of confidence and asks her if she ever feels suicidal. Over their successive meetings, we then see her go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, despair (indicated by trackie bottoms and trainers - unless you are doing the cleaning that does mean you have given up) and finally a relaxed acceptance.

These are two exemplary performances. Oliver Cotton is perfection as the distant doctor steering his patient along a particular path. He has captured that elusive combination of interest and objectivity medics seem to cultivate.

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Belinda Lang makes Stephanie so real you feel her loss, anger and pain. The chemistry between them fills the theatre and the experience is unforgettable.

Duet for One is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, October 14.

Angela Singer

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