King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Tom Kempinski’s Duet for One has enjoyed considerable success – both critical and commercial – since it was first staged in 1980. And this production, directed by Robin Lefevre, has much to recommend it, not least an incredibly detailed set showcasing Dr Feldmann (Oliver Cotton)’s extensive music collection.
But, somehow, it leaves me cold. I don’t think it’s the acting. Belinda Lang is wonderfully acerbic as Stephanie, the famous violinist struggling to cope after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She’s funny and sad, strong and brittle, and her bravado and vulnerability are beautifully played. Cotton has a lot less to do as Feldman – this is undoubtedly Stephanie’s play – but he makes a decent fist of it, manipulating the many long silences expertly. And there’s a delicious awkwardness created by the direction, a horrible claustrophobia in Feldmann’s office, highlighted by Stephanie’s frustrated wheeling around the space in her motorised wheelchair, sitting staring at blank walls, turning her back on Feldman (and on us).
The problem, for me, is the play itself. I don’t think there’s enough in it, and what there is doesn’t quite convince. It all seems a bit one-note; nothing changes – not really. Sure, Stephanie is forced to confront reality, her façade of ‘getting on with it’ steadily eroded so that she has to finally face the truth of her situation, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Where’s Feldmann’s development? What does he learn from Stephanie? What’s the point of depicting a relationship like this one if there’s nothing symbiotic there?
In the end, it all feels too didactic (the lines about citalopram and venlafaxine in particular are as clunky as can be), like an advert for therapy, pop-psychiatry in play-form. It’s terribly earnest – dare I say, pompous? – and, despite those excellent performances, it really doesn’t work for me.