Belinda Lang in Duet for One at Chichester Festival Theatre

Belinda Lang as Stephanie Abrahams in DUET FOR ONE. Credit Robert Day
Belinda Lang as Stephanie Abrahams in DUET FOR ONE. Credit Robert Day

Belinda Lang is relishing the challenge, stepping into the shoes vacated by Jemma Redgrave in the touring production of Tom Kempinski’s Duet For One (Chichester Festival Theatre, November 13-18).

“The producer is a friend of mine,” Belinda says, “and he told me they had got into trouble. He lost his leading lady (through illness) and then rang me to say ‘Help!’ I said no, but it was scary for him. They had already started rehearsals. He came back the following week, and I said yes.” The piece proved a tough learn, Belinda admits: “And it is tough to spit it out too! I missed a week and a day of rehearsals, and that makes an unbelievable amount of difference. It was pretty tough, but I think in any situation like that in life, you just trust in what you can do.”

It’s in the blood now. As Belinda says, she started out in the business in weekly rep.

“But no, it wasn’t ideal. There is a luxury about bedding something in. I suppose it just means that we are bedding it in while we have been in front of people in the audience.”

In the piece, Stephanie Abrahams (Belinda), a brilliant concert violinist is forced to re-evaluate her life when struck down by multiple sclerosis. Faced with a truth too difficult to comprehend she consults psychiatrist Dr Feldmann (Oliver Cotton) ...

The debate surrounding the play has always been about the extent to which Stephanie is based on the cellist Jacqueline du Pre. Belinda doesn’t really feel in a position to say: “One of the things that goes when you don’t have any time is that you just don’t get the chance to do any research. I always do a lot of research and a lot of reading around a play, but that just went out the window with this one. I barely had the time to actually learn to it! The first half is virtually all me. Poor Oliver just sits there while I go on and on and on!

“Whether it is Jacqueline du Pre or not, I just don’t know the truth. But the point is that she goes off to see a therapist, having been encouraged to do so by her husband. It is intense, but it is also funnier than I thought it was going to be. I didn’t actually see it as remotely amusing when I was trying to learn it because I had to learn it so fast. I thought there was nothing funny about that, but now I can see it is really quite funny.”

Belinda admits she feels a little daunted by the fact that they will be performing it on the main-house stage: “Ian McKellen has been doing his Lear in the Minerva, and that just always feels like the right place for everything. There are very few things that are really comfortable on that huge stage. I would love it if we were in the Minerva with this. It is really a chamber piece. I did Single Spies in the main-house, and I was thinking then ‘If only we were in the Minerva’. It was another piece of theatre that was really chamber theatre. I really love that big theatre, but it has to be the right play.”