More than ten years before Hilary and Jackie graced the screen, Tom Kempinski wrote Duet for One. His play - which revolves around the Jacqueline Du Pre type character, Stephanie Abrahams - was a West End hit and has been performed in some 35 countries as well as being made into a Hollywood film (by all accounts a hit, though I can’t see why).
Like Du Pre, Stephanie is a first-class string musician, a violinist who develops the wasting disease multiple sclerosis and will never be able to play again. We follow her degeneration over several months of visits to her psychiatrist, Dr Feldman, and suspect their relationship, which becomes more and more complex, begins to mirror her difficulties with her husband.
The play - set in the shrink’s office - smugly takes us through the stages of her grief from denial and anger to sadness and, finally, the possibility of acceptance.
Sasha Waddell as the semi-crippled Stephanie is extremely watchable. But, while making all the right moves, she seems to lack emotional connection with the character in the moments that matter most. This is not helped by Kempinski’s writing, as the character makes sudden leaps rather than developing gradually.
As the Doctor, George Tardios is puzzling. His delivery is strangely over-enunciated and wooden, and you begin to wonder whether this is a device or a flaw in the acting. The enigma continues when, early in the second act, Stephanie mocks his cod German accent. All very confusing.
There's very little evidence of a firm directorial hand. Michael Bernardin’s direction is shapeless and static. The play moves erratically, and the moments of climax are lost.
The studio space at the Broadway is inviting and intimate, but for some reason, we are placed well away from the playing area. This, teamed with the echoes of noises from the main auditorium, makes the actors task to hold the audience a Herculean one.