A STAGE and screen actress told how playing the role of a talented violinist struck down by multiple sclerosis (MS) has left her feeling humbled.
Clare Foster, who played PC Millie Brown in ITV’s The Bill, is appearing in Duet for One at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, with West End actor Rob Edwards, from tomorrow.
Written by Tom Kempinski, it will be performed in repertoire with another of the playwright’s works — Separation — the first time the two plays will have been performed together with the same cast.
In Duet for One, Clare’s wheelchair-bound character Stephanie Abrahams is inspired by the life of professional cellist Jacqueline Du Pré who contracted MS in 1972 and had to give up her remarkable career.
Along with the play’s director, Elizabeth Newman, Clare has been working with the Bolton branch of the MS Society, Jacqui Williams, who has MS, and Lynda Crofts, whose husband has the condition.
They have been working on how the actress should walk and move and how the illness can affect someone personally, rather than just symptoms people would read about.
Clare, who has appeared in numerous West End productions including Merrily We Roll Along and Avenue Q, said: “It’s entirely humbling, I’ve never felt so grateful for my body to be honest.
“At the end of the day, I’m able to put down the crutches and get out of the wheelchair.
“I’m incredibly humbled by it.
“I don’t know whether I would be as gracious as Jacqui.
“I really do feel if I can sell it to Jacqui, I can sell it to anyone. She is kind of my first audience.
“She is extraordinary.“
Separation tells the story of Sarah, a young American actress with a degenerative illness, who calls English agoraphobic playwright Joe for permission to perform his play.
Reluctant at first, Joe agrees and over time they establish a close and caring relationship through a series of transatlantic telephone calls, discovering an unexpected joy and hope for both of their futures.
Rob, who received an Olivier Award nomination for playing the role of Scar in musical The Lion King in the West End, said: “In Duet for One, I’m a psychiatrist who treats Clare’s character for depression and deals with her illness and the fact she can’t play the violin anymore.
“In the other play, I play a crazy person.
“It’s a good contrast.
“I think they can be certainly seen on their own.
“They make perfect sense on their own.
“But if you do see them both, there are little things that come up and make it a richer experience.”
The pair describe the plays as inspirational and life-affirming, saying they will appeal to a wide range of people, except perhaps young children although Rob is bringing his sons.
He said: “I’m bringing my kids to see it.
“They are 10 and 13. I think Oscar will be very interested.
“I think he’s old enough, I think he will get into it.
“They will like the fact there’s some swear words in it.”
Clare, whose film credits include blockbuster Les Misérables where she performed alongside Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, said: “It will be completely different to anything Rob and I have done before but it’s incredibly exciting.
“Hopefully people will come and see one and want to come and see the other because it’s the first time they have been put on with the same cast.”
The plays are close to the heart of Elizabeth, the Octagon’s associate director, as she faced a similar struggle to Duet for One’s Stephanie when she was left unable to walk at the age of 13, due to a neurological condition.
With her dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer in tatters, she was forced to find a new direction in life while learning to walk again.
She said: “I am thrilled to be directing these two Kempinski plays. Both productions are heart-warming, witty and moving.
“I have wanted to direct them since I first read Duet for One in 2003, when I was 17.
“I feel extremely privileged to be working with two remarkably talented actors, who will help me to take our audiences on two different enriching experiences that will have them leaving the theatre feeling uplifted.”
Duet for One and Separation will be performed in repertoire from tonight to Saturday, May 10.