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Duet For One

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

When successful classical violinist Stephanie is struck down in her prime by multiple sclerosis, her entire creative lifeblood is ripped asunder as she is left wheelchair-bound. This leads to a set of reluctant sessions with stoic psychiatrist Dr Feldmann, whose gnomic line of inquiry is a knowing counterpoint to Stephanie's more mercurial tendencies. As her moods swing between defensiveness, rage and self-loathing, Stephanie is forced to face up to a new life, literally playing second fiddle to both her less talented students and her increasingly experimental composer husband.

Tom Kempinski's 1980 study of enforced artistic debilitation was a huge hit when it first appeared in 1980. This was possibly because of the play's reported inspiration, iconic cellist Jacqueline du Pre, who, like Stephanie, also had her musical career cut short by MS. This is a connection Kempinski now denies in a pithy programme note for this touring revival of Robin Lefevre's recent Birmingham Rep production. Thirty-seven years on, it doesn't really matter either way, as Belinda Lang and Oliver Cotton unleash all the discord at the heart of Stephanie's loss.

Cotton's Feldmann is both conductor and sounding board for Lang's Stephanie,who, no longer able to control and transcend herself through music, is left with all her emotional and psychological baggage exposed. Hemmed in by her wheelchair, her caustically funny riffs on the sheer awfulness of her situation also give her an accidental form of liberation, forgetting herself as she leaps to her feet without thinking.

If some of the unreconstructed terminology dates the play beyond the rows of CDs lined up on Feldmann's shelves, it remains a gentle exploration of how the crushing of the artistic pulse can unleash all the inner demons being held at bay when the rhythm of life forces you to change key.

The Herald, November 3rd 2017

ends

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