Every artist’s worst nightmare

Over twenty years after the première, Duet For One is still a deeply moving portrayal of the kind of ordeal faced by Jacqueline du Pré.

Most serious artists would agree that the one thing you need to make it – whether you’re an aspiring writer, painter, composer or whatever – is dedication. Anyone who considers their art less important than silly trivial things like, oh, a social life, or a career, or a stable relationship, is clearly not going to make it. The same can be said of sportspeople. Small wonder, then, that after high-profile sportpeople retire, many of them face isolation, depression, and sometimes even suicide. Artists are a bit more lucky, and can generally keep going far beyond their thirties. But not always. When the thing you dedicated you life to is cut short by illness or injury, how do your recover from that? That was was the tragic fate of Jacqueline du Pré, an extraordinarily gifted famous cellist who lost it all to multiple sclerosis.

Duet for One is not the only story based on du Pré’s decline, nor the most famous – that title goes to the controversial Hilary and Jackie, criticised by many as sensationalist and inaccurate. Tom Kempinski on the other hand, distances his play from reality; Jacqueline du Pré becomes Stephanie Anderson, a gifted violinist, no sister in the family, and no brother-in-law to make dubious claims over an affair. Instead, we have a back-story of Stephanie’s childhood battle with a father determined she won’t pursue music as a career, proof of how much her music means to her. But the main thing remains unchanged, which is the thing that she gave everything for she can no longer do.

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