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Duet for One

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Maybe it’s something to do with the credit crunch, but some of the country’s top performers seem to be increasingly prepared to show off their skills around the regions these days.

Milton Keynes played host earlier this year to the dream pairing of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the pre-West End tour of Waiting For Godot. Now it’s the turn of acting giants Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman.

The pair have hit the road after a highly successful London run in Tom Kempinski’s two-hander Duet for One. And the talent is an absolute joy to behold.

Stevenson, who seems to be able to command any emotion at the drop of a hat, whether on stage, film or television, gives a masterclass performance as Stephanie Abrahams, a concert violinist struggling to come to terms with the multiple sclerosis that has ended her career.

Almost entirely wheelchair-bound, Stevenson transcends the limitations of her physical confinement to plumb the character for all the richness of her tormented agonising. It’s painful, perfectly judged and utterly superb to watch.

Goodman plays her psychiatrist, Dr Feldmann, as an irritating know-it-all with hidden depths of his own emotion, which are slowly wrought to the surface by Stevenson’s verbal grappling. The gradual peeling off of the shrink’s layers is carefully paced, neatly executed and completely believable.

What is less certain is the strength of the raw material. Kempinski’s 1980 play won all sorts of awards and was turned into a film with Julie Andrews, but the memory of a searing, terrifying analysis of dealing with disease is not quite realised with this production, which originated at the Almeida.

Director Matthew Lloyd appears very hands-off, to his credit, and the psychiatrist’s treatment room is magnificently rendered by designer Lez Brotherston. But the passion expressed by the two participants is rarely matched by the dialogue, which now feels to have a tendency towards the pedestrian.

For all its faults, this is an elegant, classy show with a lot of depth and two beautiful performances at its heart.

- Michael Davis


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