Tom Kempinski obituary


It’s broadly accepted that almost all writers, most playwrights, write about bits of themselves. However few go as far as Tom Kempinski. For some years, Kempinski, who has died aged 85, was a self-confessed obese, depressed agoraphobic who adopted survival mode by writing about his situation.

In his finest identified play, Duet for One (1980), he disguised an argument with himself within the six fractious conferences between a famend live performance violinist, Stephanie Abrahams, abruptly struck down with a number of sclerosis, and a German Jewish psychiatrist, Dr Feldman, hoping to persuade her that life remains to be price dwelling.

On the time of its premiere, on the tiny Bush theatre in west London, it was assumed that the play was primarily based on the story of the virtuoso cellist Jacqueline du Pré, whose stellar profession was halted by MS in 1973 (she died in 1987). Kempinski at all times denied this, admitting the topic of the play was a cathartic explosion of his personal anxieties and melancholy. Stephanie was initially performed by Frances de la Tour, Kempinski’s accomplice on the time and mom of two of his three kids; the position of the psychiatrist was taken by David de Keyser.

Regardless of having been rejected by a number of West Finish managements, the play was an instantaneous smash hit, and transferred to the Duke of York’s theatre, with Kempinski and De la Tour each nominated for Olivier awards (De la Tour profitable hers for finest actress, together with the Night Commonplace award).

The play then opened on Broadway in 1981, the place William Friedkin’s troubled manufacturing fared much less effectively, however a second manufacturing on the Roundabout in New York within the following season, starring Eva Marie Saint, was extra positively obtained.

It has been carried out in 42 international locations and was lately on stage once more in London, on the Almeida (with Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman) in 2009, and this yr on the Orange Tree (Tara Fitzgerald because the violinist and Maureen Beattie because the physician). Kempinski wrote a screenplay for the 1986 movie model starring Julie Andrews and Alan Bates, directed by Andrei Konchalovsky – “They turned it right into a form of Dallas” – he stated. However the sale of the rights to the producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus earned him £250,000, which funded his psychoanalysis and acquired him a brand new home.

His relationship with De la Tour led to 1982 and he moved to a close-by flat in Hornsey, north London, barely 100 yards away from the household house, in order that he might share custody of the kids.

Round this time he wrote a direct self-portrait – of a lonely, obese agoraphobic playwright with author’s block – in Separation (1987), premiered at Hampstead theatre. The play was additionally a love story between the author (David Suchet, closely padded) and an actor (Saskia Reeves) whose neurological illness has made her depending on crutches.

Separation was pretty much as good as Duet for One, devoid of sentimentality and, not least due to two sensible and touching performances in Michael Attenborough’s manufacturing, it transferred to the Comedy (now the Harold Pinter) for a good run.

Tom was the one baby of Melanie (nee Rahmer) and Gerhard Kempinski, hoteliers and restaurateurs in Berlin who ran the nonetheless famend Kempinski lodge within the metropolis. His father was additionally an actor. Because the household enterprise was confiscated and “Aryanised” with the rise of Hitler, Tom’s mother and father travelled to London as refugees in 1936 and opened a restaurant, Kempinski, off Regent Avenue. His maternal grandmother and uncle fled to the Netherlands, the place they have been captured by the Nazis and died in focus camps.

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Within the spring of 1968, Tom Kempinski joined the coed revolutionaries in Paris who occupied the Odéon theatre throughout ‘les événements’. {Photograph}: David Bebber/The Instances/Information Licensing

Born in London, Tom was two when his mother and father, fearing a German invasion of Britain, despatched him to stick with his paternal grandparents, who had gone to New York. His grandfather there died inside six months of his arrival and his grandmother, unable to manage, positioned him with an accommodating Jewish household within the metropolis.

On the finish of the second world warfare, “Tommy”, full with an American accent, was despatched again to London, the place he was greeted by strangers – his mother and father. Two years later, his father died of a coronary heart assault. Aged 10, Tom had his first psychological breakdown.

Now his personal mom was unable to manage, so in 1951 she despatched him as a boarder to Abingdon faculty in Oxfordshire. There he gained a scholarship to learn fashionable languages at Gonville & Caius school, Cambridge, in 1957. He lasted one time period, had one other breakdown, then voluntarily entered the Maudsley hospital in south London for a couple of weeks.

He then gained a spot at Rada – he had briefly joined the Footlights at Cambridge – and went straight from there right into a Joseph Losey movie, The Damned (1961), a sci-fi horror starring Shirley Anne Discipline and Oliver Reed. In 1962, Kempinski performed a distinguished position in Lionel Bart’s exclamatory follow-up to Oliver!, Blitz!, a sensationally designed (by Sean Kenny) epic of the East Finish of London in the course of the warfare, however it didn’t take off, operating on the Adelphi for 16 months.

“It was,” stated Noël Coward, an enormous fan of Oliver! and a buddy of Bart’s, “twice as loud and twice so long as the actual factor.”

Kempinski left the solid to stroll on at Laurence Olivier’s new Nationwide Theatre on the Outdated Vic in 1963, taking part in a string of more and more bigger elements, culminating within the resourceful manservant Jeremy (to John Stride’s Valentine) in Peter Wooden’s stunning manufacturing of Congreve’s Love for Love. He additionally performed a wide range of small roles in Olivier’s Othello, on stage and movie.

His performing spotlight was within the title position of Charles Wooden’s Dingo (1967) on the Royal Courtroom. The brutal antiwar play, through which Kempinski performed a hardened skilled soldier disillusioned along with his half within the aftermath of desert warfare, had been ditched by the Nationwide due to censorship issues, and was carried out on the Courtroom below membership circumstances; censorship was not abolished till the Theatres Act of 1968, and this nice play contributed to that end result.

Within the spring of 1968, Kempinski joined a workshop with the director Peter Brook in Paris, however virtually instantly left to affix the coed revolutionaries who occupied the Odéon theatre on the centre of what grew to become generally known as “les événements”.

A number of movie roles ensued, notably Stephen Frears’ Gumshoe (1972) through which, mockingly, he performed a sympathetic psychiatrist in a stunning scene with Albert Finney (“You’re a nutter,” he yells, climactically, at his delusional consumer). However he and De la Tour have been making a reputation for themselves elsewhere as energetic and disruptive members of Fairness and as founding members of the Trotskyite Staff Revolutionary get together. Kempinski later denounced the WRP however remained a dedicated revolutionary.

Though in 1996 Kempinski informed the Impartial that he had overcome his author’s block – within the final two years he had written 11 performs; in all he wrote 40 – and misplaced 12 stone in weight, he by no means once more loved the success of his first two hits. However he was not bitter, nor self-pitying. Of his agoraphobia he stated: “You might be afraid you will go berserk and homicide everybody exterior. So that you imprison your self.”

In addition to his relationship with De la Tour (1972-82), he was married twice, first in 1967 to the actor Margaret Nolan, from whom he was divorced in 1972; and second to the leisure lawyer Sarah Tingay, with whom he had been in a relationship since 1989, in 2007.

She and their daughter, Antonia, survive him, as do his kids with Frances, Josh and Tamasin, and 4 grandchildren.


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