EVELYN Glennie, the world-famous percussionist, chose the cellist Jacqueline du Pre, for her interview on BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives series last week. It was a fortuitous choice for those of us who were due to see Duet For One at the Warehouse Theatre this week.
The programme looked at du Pre both as one of the greatest musicians of all time – possibly the greatest cellist ever – and as a flawed human, battling a cruel illness and raging against the long-drawn-out but inevitable finale.
Tom Kempinski’s play is about a musician diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, as was du Pre, although Kempinksi’s Stephanie Abrahams is a violinist not a cellist. Through a roller-coaster of six intense scenes, we see Miss Abrahams and her psychiatrist, Dr Feldmann, exploring her reaction to the incurable and progressive condition, examining her background, her relationship with her father, her marriage and the importance of music in her life.
Director Robert Graydon, in his programme note, stresses that this is an “entirely fictional realisation” but of course there are parallels with du Pre’s condition. It is known that in the early stages of the illness she experienced severe depression – hardly surprising for a world-class musician who was forced into premature retirement at the age of 28.
This is a hard, difficult play. At times, some in the Ilminster audience were clearly uncomfortable with the language as Stephanie rages against the doctor, her husband and life itself.
Some scenes dig as deep into the consciousness of the audience as they do into the troubled background of the wheelchair-bound woman on stage. Most of us have known someone close, who has died from a cruel, incurable condition, whether it is multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease or an ultimately fatal cancer. Anger, pain, frustration, self-pity – we have watched these emotions and experienced them, and the brutal honesty of this play brings them back.
And the questions that Feldmann asks Miss Abrahams can be provocative for the listener as well. How well could any of us look into our memories and our lives and give truthful answers?
With tight and sympathetic direction by Graydon, himself one of the area’s finest actors, and outstanding performances by Teresa Ravenscroft as Stephanie Abrahams and Dave Goodall as Dr Feldmann this is a memorable evening. FC