Duet for One plays Chichester Festival Theatre

Oliver Cotton as Dr Feldmann in DUET FOR ONE. Credit Robert Day

A brilliant concert violinist who seemingly has it all is forced to re-evaluate her life when struck down by an unforeseen tragedy, multiple sclerosis.

Sounds like Jacqueline du Pre?

Not necessarily, says Oliver Cotton who plays psychiatrist Dr Feldmann when Tom Kempinski’s multi award-winning play Duet for One visits Chichester Festival Theatre from November 13-18.

Belinda Lang plays violinist Stephanie Abrahams after Jemma Redgrave, who was originally cast in the role, was forced to withdraw through illness.

“Even if the playwright was thinking of Jacqueline du Pre, it doesn’t really add much,” says Oliver. “If it is based on Jacqueline du Pre, there isn’t really any correlation between the characters except they are both musicians who faced a terrible dilemma as geniuses who can no longer perform.

“It would be like that for anybody who lives through their art or for a sportsman who can’t play anymore. It would be a huge challenge to anybody, except that I think for a musician it would be a particularly-hard challenge... or maybe as much for a dancer, someone in their prime who suddenly can’t perform.”

The tragedy in this case is multiple sclerosis, just as it was with the cellist Jacqueline du Pre: “So it replicates that, but it is not a biopic at all. There is no connection in that sense.”

Faced with a truth too difficult to comprehend, Stephanie – through a series of highly-charged encounters – is led to examine her deepest emotions and finally to consider a future without music.

“The psychiatrist is a doctor. He is allowed to give medicine, but he is also a character who is extremely intuitive. Within the play he is able to press the right buttons to break down the violinist’s defences. He sees those defences as negative forms of what is going on. She doesn’t realise that she is actually on a path to self-destruction. The play is about his ability to bring her back. It is about the difference between being able to understand and actually being able to absorb something.”

The tour is several weeks in now, and Oliver is enjoying it.

“They asked me, and it fitted in with what I was doing. I had heard of the play, but I must be the one person had never seen it. It had been on in London, and most people I knew had seen it in London. I read it and thought it was really interesting. It is about music which I am very, very interested in, and it is also about the power of music. But it is also about somebody who is a musician who suddenly can’t perform. It takes place in the unlikely setting of a series of therapy sessions with a psychiatrist... which doesn’t sound very interesting, but actually it really is. And also very emotional.”

Oliver was due to share the stage with Jemma Redgrave who was forced to pull out of the production at the end of August.

“We had not really started when Jemma was taken ill. I think she is getting better now. She felt she felt very peculiar. She was unwell and she had to pull out. It was very unfortunate, but Belinda stepping in has been terrific.”

It’s just the two of them in the piece: “How that works on the main-house stage in Chichester, we will see,” says Oliver who was last in the Chichester in the Minerva production of The Syndicate. Before that, he was in the main-house stage in a production of The Grapes of Wrath.

Tickets for Duet for One are available on www.cft.org.uk..

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