Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Duet for One - Richmond Theatre

Duet for One by Tom Kempinski
Director: Matthew Lloyd

Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

The man in row G had something when on reading his programme he said to his companion “This doesn’t look much like a barrel of laughs”.

It has been said that no-one considering music as a career should do so if they can possibly imagine themselves being happy doing anything else. Perhaps they should also read Karl Lutchmayer’s doom laden introduction to the play, though bearing in mind that his is fortunately not the only opinion. After all, do not most of us, as he writes, continually walk “a tightrope between supreme self-confidence and a nagging fear that exposition as a fake is just around the corner”?

The beautifully detailed set by Lez Brotherton at first resembles a typical Victorian psychiatrist’s consulting room. Its restful green walls, and the couch on which no-one actually lies are illuminated by Jason Taylor’s sunlight pouring through the Venetian blinds, which are occasionally lifted as more light is shed on the story. Books line the walls floor to ceiling but the give-away beady red eye of the elaborate hi-fi system draws attention to the hundreds of CDs and tapes on the shelves bringing us firmly up to date. Plants flourish on the windowsills inside and out. A large and spiky cactus on a side table stage left confronts a peace lily on the doctor’s desk, foreshadowing the unfolding tale. We are in Harley Street.

Psychological dramas by their nature rely upon the disclosure of unpleasant secrets and the starting point of this story is sad enough. A woman is denied the fulfilment of her life’s work by progressive illness. The play could equally well have been written about a dancer, an athlete, Beethoven. In fact it applies to any one of us who, if we live long enough, will eventually be overtaken by physical limitations.

Henry Goodman and Juliet Stevenson as doctor and patient play their roles perfectly. One would expect nothing less. He is the fatherly confidant who can turn fierce in the interests of others. She may not look 42 but her delicate physique is a perfect vehicle for the portrayal of the invalid’s robotic walk and sudden falls which produce gasps of concern from the audience. The mental and physical energy to carry this three and a half hour dialogue is monumental, but how dull their CVs are in the programme. We are not entitled to know their intimate secrets but it would be nice to have some indication that they really are human beings and not just consummate players up there for our entertainment.

Director Matthew Lloyd puts much movement into what could be an extremely static production. Was Thomas Gould really playing the violin back stage or was that just the expertise of John Leonard’s sound engineering? Even Juliet Stevenson’s hair style had its part to play. Did Cally Bone, the make up supervisor, attack her with an egg whisk to produce that frazzled look mid evening before combing her out again for her final scenes?

For all its length it gives the impression that this is only Chapter One of the relationship between Dr Feldman and the unfortunate Stephanie Abrahams and one moral that can be dra` 1wn from the story so far is this. If your child wants to do something extraordinary with its life you must, at your peril, support it every step of the way, especially if it all ends in tears.

Duet for One runs at the Richmond Theatre until Sat 4th April 2009
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