Froth and love in a wonderful, light romance

Timothy Barber
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<!--StartFragment--> <strong>Theatre</strong><br />DUET FOR ONE<br /><strong>Vaudeville Theatre<br /></strong>DUET for One provides us with what must be one of the West End&rsquo;s most poignant performances in recent times, in the shape of Juliet Stevenson&rsquo;s musician whose career has been curtailed by multiple sclerosis. It is a masterclass in control, nuance and subtle physicality, without ever seeming anything other than entirely natural, and it&rsquo;s a privilege to witness.<br /><br />Tom Kempinksi&rsquo;s 1981 play, loosely based on the plight of cellist Jacqueline du Pre, follows the meetings of Stevenson&rsquo;s stricken violinist, Stephanie, with psychotherapist Dr Feldman (Henry Goodman, also terrific), as she faces up to life as a wheelchair-bound ex-musician. At first, Stephanie is all big hair and brash, polished confidence as she bats away Feldman&rsquo;s questions with affected middle class resilience &ndash; she doesn&rsquo;t accept for a moment that she&rsquo;s a real, needful patient. Gradually, however, Feldman&rsquo;s pertinent questions force her to confront her loss and pain, and she fights back with every amount of petulance and anger she can muster. As the two enter into a cat and mouse game for control of their exchanges, the stakes reveal themselves to be nothing less than Stephanie&rsquo;s life, and the production arcs through the most bitter, soul-bearing emotions.<br /><br />The play&rsquo;s twists and turns themselves resemble the crescendos and diminuendos of a virtuoso musical performance, but the play is not perfect &ndash; some of the psychoanalysis seems unnecessarily shoe-horned, and it stutters to an awkward conclusion.<br /><br />But it&rsquo;s a show to savour nonetheless, in details the subtlety with which Stevenson allows the physical manifestations of MS to play out, the pregnant pauses Goodman leaves as questions hang in the air, and the convincingly intimate, atmospheric set design. Superb. <!--EndFragment-->