Review: “Duet for One”, Octagon Theatre, Bolton, to May 10th

Clare Foster as Stephanie Abrahams in Duet for One at the Octagon, Bolton. Photo: Ian Tilton
Clare Foster as Stephanie Abrahams in Duet for One at the Octagon, Bolton. Photo: Ian Tilton

Bolton Octagon’s production of Tom Kempinski’s “Duet for One” is a tour-de-force.

The play itself is fascinating. Inspired by the life of the cellist Jacqueline du Pre, who developed multiple sclerosis and was unable to continue playing,

Clare Foster as Stephanie Abrahams in Duet for One at the Octagon, Bolton. Photo: Ian Tilton

Clare Foster as Stephanie Abrahams in Duet for One at the Octagon, Bolton. Photo: Ian Tilton

Kempinski’s interpretation follows the visits of Stephanie Abrahams, a violinist with MS, to a therapist, Dr Alfred Feldmann, who tries to convince her she should keep on living. The two actors – Clare Foster as Stephanie and Rob Edwards as Dr Feldmann – give stunning performances.

In the first act my attention was probably more focused on Stephanie. Clare Foster gives an amazing insight into the character’s mood swings and desperation. Every physical movement reinforces her changing state of mind.

In the second act Dr Feldmann has more opportunities to express his ideas and beliefs as he struggles to help Stephanie. So much of what he says is thought-provoking and memorable. We can feel Stephanie’s pain but this play isn’t just a story of a musician who loses a precious gift, it has a universality that can be applied to so many aspects of the human condition.

This is Kempinski’s best-known play and is cleverly constructed. Despite the fact both characters are sitting down almost all the time, it doesn’t feel static. Elizabeth Newman directs with precision and gives us an enthralling albeit challenging production.

The Octagon is showing Duet for One in tandem with another Tom Kempinski play, “Separation”, starring the same two actors.

Box office: 01204 520661. Website: www.octagonbolton.co.uk