A world-class concert violinist married to a famous composer, Stephanie Abrahams’s life changes drastically when multiple sclerosis makes it impossible for her to play.
Written by Tom Kempinski, the drama takes place over six sessions in the treatment room of psychiatrist Dr Feldman, whom Stephanie has agreed to see at the suggestion of her husband.
A charming, witty and intelligent character, Stephanie is initially at pains to convince Dr Feldman and herself that she is fine, that she has her plan B all ready to action. The first couple of sessions see Belinda Lang give vast swathes of monologues which must have been incredibly difficult to learn. They are punctuated only by a few words from Dr Feldman, played by Jonathan Coy.
But once Dr Feldman has sized up the situation, the balance begins to shift as he probes into Stephanie’s psyche and bamboozles her with questions that make her dig deep into herself. Is this necessary or is it cruel? We’re not sure, until it becomes clear that Dr Feldman recognises that she is suicidal. He deems it important to break Stephanie down until she admits her true feelings, so that working together they can build her back up.
By the end of act one Stephanie has crumbled as she faces her current reality, but there is still a way to go before she hits rock bottom. In the second half she becomes angry, self-destructive and hurtful. She also at times hysterically funny.
Towards the end Stephanie says that to her the violin isn’t a way of life, it islife, and we are not sure at the end who will win out in this battle of brilliant minds – in other words will Stephanie live?
Despite the bleak subject matter there is such warmth, wisdom and humour in this wonderful play that it is a hugely enjoyable experience to watch it.
Dr Feldman is on stage throughout. Often in his seat and staring at his shoes – as Stephanie derides him for – when he does get up it always serves a dramatic point. Powerful moments in the second half see him shout, but most poignant of all is when he anxiously looks through the blinds as he wonders if Stephanie is coming. If she doesn’t turn up it’s quite possible it is because the worst has happened.
Belinda Lang manages some amazingly quick costume changes, and her wardrobe visibly reflects her mental state as it deteriorates.
Best known for her memorable roles in popular 1990s sitcoms Second Thoughts and 2 Point 4 Children, Lang’s theatre CV is extensive encompassing Wycherley, Coward and Sheridan, and it shows.
Her performance is stunning as she delivers such fast and complex dialogue through stages of charm, denial, facetiousness, anger and humility.
Jonathan Coy is also a familiar face to TV viewers having had parts in everything from Endeavourto Hornblowerand on stage has performed at the Donmar Warehouse, Wyndham’s and the Old Vic.
He gives a controlled and convincing performance, conveying pathos in a very sincere way.
Duet for One is at Theatr Clwyd, Mold, until September 8, and I would urge theatre loves to see it.