Review – Duet for One, Almeida Theatre

Sunday 15 February 2009

duet-for-one-almeida-theatreDear Andrew

Mea culpa. Apologies for taking so long to reply to your letter of Jan 25th.

I’m sure that today being Valentine’s day you had other plans anyway. What is it this year? Skywriting interlocking Whingers’ masks in the sky? Leaving a trail of rose petals down Shaftesbury Avenue?

As an incurable romantic and I’m sure as loved up as ever, you’ll probably be in a right old lather, running hither and thither, making romantic gestures all over town. I do hope that some people make gestures back at you.

I know I turned down the chance to be near you at Be Near Me, I hadn’t realised the significance of it’s title. How perverse that I should de duetting as one at Duet for One on this, the most romantic day of the year.

I must pay more attention to the name of the play. A friend was taking his fiancée to The Taming of the Shrew tonight, I do wonder what Valentine message he was trying to convey.

But I didn’t attend alone, my friend Stephen had a spare ticket for the matinée and knows a thing or two about psychiatry, and since the play is set over the course of six therapy sessions, I thought it might be a stimulating experience.

You sound worried Andrew. Yes, I said six sessions. Sounds rather long doesn’t it? Do you remember when we attended couples counselling together, each session lasted 50 minutes? Are you doing sums on your abacus now? Could it really be 300 minutes long? I don’t think you’d have coped.

The thing is, the person in Tom Kempinski‘s DfO is a brilliant concert violinist (possibly inspired by Jacqueline du Pré), Stephanie Abrahams (Juliet Stevenson), who consults a shrink, Dr Feldmann (Henry Goodman), so she can come to terms with a future without music having been struck down with multiple sclerosis. It’s not exactly like our petty squabbles – fighting over a stalls seat armrest is it?

It may sound a little grim, but actually I was very entertained, pretty much gripped throughout. It was a bit like eavesdropping on an intimate private conversation, and you know how you like to do that.

As Dr Feldman sits passively in his swivel chair he, at first, doesn’t seem to being doing very much. He lets Stephanie ramble on about how well she’s coping with her illness and how strong her marriage is. Of course she’s hiding her true feelings (wouldn’t be much of a play otherwise would there?) and after a bit of subtle poking from the quack, out it all comes.

There’s an awful lot of listening for the audience, poor old Stevenson has tons of lines to deliver but she doesn’t overdo it with one of those my-disability-will-get-me-an-oscar-nod performances. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Which is just as well as there’s not much movement in the early scenes, she being in her wheelchair, he on his swivel. From my seat Goodman was positioned directly in line with a pillar, so I didn’t see much of him at first. If I bothered to lean to see his face it always seemed to be the moment he’d lean back in his chair and become obscured again. But I did establish he was sporting a rather nattily trimmed beard, and I was wistfully reminded of your endearingly bedraggled effort.

I was pretty convinced by the therapy, but still quizzed Stephen about the doctor’s methods at the interval. He confirmed it as pretty accurate, and even used a very tricky-to-remember therapy term for his technique, which of course I instantly forgot. But I was very good Andrew, I took notes as you told me to, but in the dark didn’t realise my pen had run out. Inspired by your collection of brass rubbings, I rubbed a pencil over the indentations made by my biro, but still can’t read them. Ah well.

It’s a little on the long side (2 and a half hours including the interval), but the only real cavil I had was the second act rant by the doctor to his patient. Very unprofessional, but I can understand why it was necessary to provide one of those dramatic arcs you go on about. And I think it was making a point about how even an analyst cannot remain fully detached in such extreme circumstances, but it would never happen, especially as he’s an supposed to be an experienced practitioner charging £200 per session.

The set is so well lit (Jason Taylor) that, as we entered the auditorium, Stephen asked if it was real outside light coming in through the window. Rather endearing don’t you think? In fact, despite nodding off briefly in the first act, he was very agreeable company and there was no debate about bunking off at the interval.

There’s even talk about a totter. When did we last hear a totter mentioned in a play? You’d have been beside yourself with glee. More theatrical totter talk I say!

Did I miss you? I would have missed the tussle over the armrest if the theatre bothered to supply them. I missed the warmth of your merlot-fuelled, overheated body jostling against mine to access more space for your derrière. I missed the comforting purr of your snores as your head slumps against mine (Stephen’s head just fell forward). And I did miss having to wet wipe a tsunami of dribble off my shoulder pad (I told you they’d come back into fashion) at the end of the play.

Anyway it’s sold out at the Almeida, but it’s touring to lovely places like Bath, Windsor and Richmond before coming into the West End. Julie Andrews acted her socks off in the film version, and they opened it out so you actually get to see the totter (Liam Neeson) this trailer might give you an idea of what you missed. They must have been queuing round the block at the multiplexes.

Stevenson and Goodman are as good as I’ve ever seen them. She doesn’t put a foot wrong apart from getting out of her wheelchair and taking several tumbles. The whole thing’s directed so well by Matthew Lloyd that it rarely feels static. I was engrossed. Completely shrink wrapped up.

I do hope you had a lovely Valentine’s day and that your romantic homemade sauerkraut supper worked its intended magic.

Love Phil

P.S. The Sunday Times today revealed the 100 best blogs in the world, Paul Daniels, a spoof Richard Madeley and even Jeffrey Archer‘s “hypnotically awful” blog made the list, but, sorry to upset you, no sign of The Whingers. You really must try harder.

14 Responses to “Review – Duet for One, Almeida Theatre”

  1. Beautiful, beautiful review Phil!

    *Simone reaches out for a box of tissue*

    I am seeing this on 13/03 and really looking forward to it! And please dont accuse me of crawling, but you dont need a recommendation that says your blog is one of the best, because we already know that it is!

  2. Kate Foy Says:

    Oh tosh! Of course WEW is one of the best blogs. And you are undoubtedly my fave blogblokes. Even Stephen Fry can’t keep up.

  3. nina Says:

    Not Duet for One (which I loved for all of the above and more) but The Sunday Times! How could they miss my favourite blog? I was reconciled to not seeing you on page 7 but as I turned over to pages 8 and 9 I was forced to read and read again before finding you not there. Ah well – caviar to the general?

  4. Suzie Bee Says:

    I very much enjoy your “Dear Andrew” and “Dear Phil” reviews. More of them please!

  5. J.A. Says:

    Would make a distracting Radio 4 series. Are Pru and Pat still available?

  6. The footer on the Sunday Times spread said that arts and theatre blogs will be covered next week so perhaps you will still make the list…

  7. JohnnyFox Says:

    Catch up, J.A., Pru and Pat have been replaced by Mo and Annie. Can’t you get ITV3 ?

    Great review, one of your recent best.


  8. @ Interval Drinks: we can hardly contain ourselves.

    @JohnnyFox: “Great review, one of your recent best” in which case Phil can write ALL of them as far as I’m concerned.

    [flounces out]

  9. JohnnyFox Says:

    @ Andrew. No offence, but we haven’t had one of your onanistic solo reviews since Be Near Me in January which was also ‘one of the best’ just not so recent.

    Dry those tears, now. Blow. That’s better. I can burn the hanky later.

  10. jmc Says:

    We were taken to see this as schoolkids when it was @ the Duke of York’s with Frances de la Tour, most of us persuaded to go in order to see “Miss Jones.” At the climax of the play, when the protagonist attempts to stand on her wobbly pegs, one of my classmates said very loudly “Shakin’ Stevens”. It brought our section of the house down.

  11. […] tickets sold out I am pleased we did book tickets as it has received very good reviews here and here. Now that’s another Friday evening to look forward […]

  12. Roger Richmond Says:

    Just seen DFO at Richmond.
    No. Not five stars, that is.
    The PHYSICAL presentation of MS came from the Mother Goose School of Acting, whilst the representations of ‘her’ father and ‘lover’ were pure Mary Poppins (or at least Dick Van Dyke).
    Chop fifteen minutes out of each act and it would be MUCH improved.
    Otherwise, all it needs is an ending.

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