Duet for One, Attic Theatre, Cox’s Yard, Stratford, to May 18.
At times they are like gladiators - circling, lunging, ready to strike the final blow. In some ways it can, indeed, be seen as a fight to the death.
The antagonists in Tom Kempinski’s riveting play are a psychiatrist and a woman diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And in this debut production by the newly-formed Aspect Theatre Company, full, hearty rein is given to the slings and arrows of her outrageous misfortune.
The battle for mind over matter which is fought out by these two is delivered with extraordinary intensity by Katherine Parker-Jones and Martin Bourne. She is a former world-class violinist who sees only total life destruction through her disability. He is the pragmatic German doctor who could almost be a cliché but for the strength of the writing and, in this case, the skill of performance.
As a two-hander, it is richly absorbing drama which pulls no punches with the tragic elements of its theme, but nonetheless cuts through the top layer with flashes of wry humour. These are never missed and the all-round emphasis of the piece is underscored by Marc Dugmore’s subtle direction. This allows careful movement and moments of fraught silence to accentuate the mood.
Through a sequence of several interviews (treatments?), we see the different faces of the client (patient?). She starts aloof, poised to question, ready to scorn the efforts of the doctor and the husband who persuaded her to attend.
She re-emerges in a perilous bout of hyper self-confidence. Later she descends
into alarmingly bitter perversity.
From initial sarcastic barbs, she starts to hurl abuse at her listener and ridicule his methods. He sits stoic in the face of every barrage, failing to answer every question, merely hearing and observing. The strength and commitment of the two performances make all this a compelling theatrical experience.
It’s a striking first appearance by a notable new company.
For tickets go to: www.theattictheatre.co.uk/