I chanced upon a colleague along the corridor the other day and knowing that she has quite a good taste for plays, I took the opportunity to ask her for a recommendation.
"Well, you could certainly try Duet for One. It is pretty decent. Anyway, it played in Almeida, you can't go wrong with that."
Almeida Theatre together with Donmar Theatre has got this reputation of hosting fine plays with intimate settings performed to a high standard. I didn't need much persuasion and headed straight to the TKTS ticket booth at Leicester Square the very next day.
After a stint at Almeida Theatre earlier in the year, Duet for One has since moved to Vaudeville Theatre along The Strand, opposite the new defunct Savoy. I was pleasantly surprised to find tickets for the evening show still available at TKTS on early Saturday afternoon. I found out that the play was performed to a full theatre later that evening.
The first thing that struck me the moment I stepped into the hall is the elaborate prop. Though the set for Duet for One is not a Les Miserables, which featured a revolving stage. It is far from the Woman in Black that thrives on a simple setup.
The Duet for One opens into a study room, a psychiatrist work office to be precise. Shelves of books and stacks of CDs adorn the cosy space with the patient's comfy sofa grabbing the centre-stage. On one end lies the doctor's work desk and the 'sunlight' pours into the other end through thoughtfully placed windows. It is like a scene plucked out from a novel.
The plot is about the dynamics between a patient and her psychiatrist and is beautifully played out by the cast of two. Stephanie Abrahams (played by Juliet Stevenson) plays an outstanding violinist whose career was cut short by multiple sclerosis while Dr Feldmann (played by Henry Goodman) is the ever so detached doctor who is bent on delivering Stephanie out of the shadows.
The nearly 2.5 hrs of dialogue between the two characters is peppered with emotional outbursts that give the audience a glimpse into the relationship between Stephanie and her husband, mother and father, and her constant struggle to gain acceptance. Dr Feldmann, on the other hand, more than once, tore down her attempts to put up a brave front with a simple "Are you happy?" in a light German accent.
Though the play can be tedious at times as Stephanie goes on and on about how she is coping well and visits Dr Feldmann only at the bequest of her husband, it is nevertheless a very intense piece. The powerful performance by Stevenson and Goodman manage to engage the audience throughout the entire duration. The trembling of Stephanie's hand or the idiosyncrasies of Dr Feldmann. It is as if you are in the same room as them.
Duet for One is definitely for fans of movies Before Sunset (2004) and After Sundown (2006). It's a in the process play that leave you wondering after you step out of the theatre.
404 Strand, London, WC2R 0NH