Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Steph and Doc

A desperate, scruffy, Stephanie Abrahams, played wonderfully by Katherine Jones, in confrontational mood with Martin Bourne's expertly measured Dr Feldmann

 Duet for One

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre Studio


Every so often along comes a production that reminds you why you spend so much of your time reviewing theatre – a production it is a privilege and a sheer joy to watch.

Katherine Jones and Martin Bourne are simply superb as violinist Stephanie Abrahams and psychiatrist Alfred Feldmann in performances that would not look out of place on any professional stage.

There are echoes of Jacqueline du Pré and her husband conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim in Tom Kempinski 1980 play. The pair were seen as the golden couple of music, a modern Robert and Clara Schumann.

Miss du Pré, perhaps the leading cellist of her generation, was struck down with multiple sclerosis at the height of her career in 1971. She died in 1987 aged just 42.

In Kempinski’s award winning play Miss Abrahams is a renowned violinist married to world famous composer David Liebermann, another golden couple, and like du Pré, her musical career has been ended by MS. She is already in a wheelchair and, at the suggestion, and, one suspects, persuasion, of her husband has arrived for her first appointment with German psychiatrist Dr Feldmann - aren’t they all German in plays?

The scene is set up for a mawkish wallow in sentimentality to send the audience home happily sad with a tear in their eye and a lump in their throat, but Kempinski ignores that easy, lazy option to create instead a powerful, moving and thoughtful piece that is emotionally draining for both actors and, at times, audience.

The premise we are asked to consider is what is the point of life, or more specifically, how can you carry on living when all you lived for, and even hope itself is gone?

steph and doc at the start

Stephanie, with a fragile facade of confident coping with the psychiatrist she is seeing just to please her husband

Stephanie Abrahams lived for her music, she had fought her father to be a musician, battled long and hard, it was her life and MS had taken it away. Her life is empty, bleak and her future is even bleaker.

In six sessions with Feldmann we see anger, sarcasm, profanity, frustration, fear, hostility and even jealousy with emotion as raw as an open wound; in one session Jones’ eyes glistened and a tear ran down her cheek as her character descended into the blackness of despair. She is at times bolshie, at times viciously hurtful, at times suicidal and always, beneath the hard surface, vulnerable and close to suicidal. A moving and quite brilliant performance from Katherine Jones who visibly lived every emotion.

And trying to save her is Feldmann, underplayed quite beautifully by Martin Bourne with his soft gentle probing and seemingly simple questions designed to create complex, telling answers. He was always quiet and mild mannered, with a habit of crunching sweets from a tin on his desk every so often, and happy to sit in silence waiting for an answer, or at least a response – once we sat in silence for what seemed ages after he started a Newton’s cradle in motion, with not a word until the balls had almost stopped moving. Kempinski and experienced director Marc Dugmore both realising that an uncomfortable silence can be just as powerful as words. The hesitant pace and telling, aching pauses are quite superb, building tension on and off stage.

The gentle doctor is a music lover, with many of Miss Abraham’s recordings which he plays appreciatively, and he likes his plants, which he sprays at moments when he is alone, and even once while Miss Abrahams is prattling on about something that told him nothing. He was so even tempered, soft spoken, quiet, answering often with just a gesture, that when he did finally explode the shock reverberated to audience and Stephanie  like a bomb blast.

a truce

Stephanie, having plumbed the depths of despair, finally faces up to the reality before her

The pair are always convincing, never over acted, with no hysteria, no overplaying of hands and perhaps it was the restraint that gave the piece such power as we saw the initially outwardly confident Stephanie, dressed in middle class casual elegance, a woman who tells us she is doing fine and certainly didn’t need a shrink, mapping out her new life.

Slowly the realisation and despair took hold and her clothing became more . . . casual, some would say scruffy, with pants that had not been changed for weeks and lurid tales of sex with a totter – a scrap man – as self-esteem gives way to self-loathing and she lashes out at everything and everyone.

We all know what the future holds for Stephanie, a relatively fast or a slow and lingering death, and her sessions with Feldmann plunge her into the darkest corners of her mind. Kempinski avoided creating a weepfest with his plot so he is not going to spoil all that by offering simplistic or facile solutions of how Stephanie can live or even cope with her condition.

He has no answer, but he does give us, and Stephanie, hope. In the final session we see gone are the red nose and tearful eyes, unkempt hair, unmade up face, scruffy clothes and weeks old pants of her worst moments. Perhaps a corner has been turned as she appears in an elegant dress, beautifully made up and with not a hair out of place. She has a long road ahead, but with Feldmann in her corner, she at least now appears to be finally ready to face the journey.

The set looks like a doctor’s consulting room while the Bach violin solos Feldmann plays remind us of what Stephanie and her public have lost – sound Steve Willis. Eric Stewarts lighting is simple but effective with long, gentle fades at the end of each act.

In the confines of the Swan Theatre studio there is an intimacy that makes this even more powerful with Jones and Bourne close enough to not only see but almost touch the emotion. For anyone who loves theatre and the power and feelings it can generate this is a real treat which in truth deserves far more than a five night run. To 24-06-17.

Roger Clarke


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