Kempinski, Tom 1938-

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KEMPINSKI, Tom 1938-

(Gerrard Thomas, a pseudonym)


Born March 24, 1938, in London, England; married France de la Tour (divorced); children: one daughter (with partner). Education: Attended Cambridge University.


Agent—Alan Brodie Representation, ICM, 8942 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90026.


Playwright and actor. Actor in films, including These Are the Damned, 1962; Othello, 1965; Stranger in the House, 1967; The Whisperers, 1967; Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter, 1968; (A Session with) The Committee, 1968; Moon Zero Two, 1969; The Reckoning, 1969; The McKenzie Break, 1970; Praise Marx and Pass the Ammunition, 1970; Doctor in Trouble, 1970; and Gumshoe, 1971. Also appeared on television, including "The Good Ones Are All Dead," Callan, 1967; "The Amazons," Virgin of the Secret Service, 1968; "The Brothers," Dixon of Dock Green, 1968; "My Wildest Dream," The Avengers, 1969; "King's Gambit," Counterstrike, 1969; A.D. A.M., 1971; and Plaintiffs and Defendants, 1975. Actor in stage productions, including Blitz, Adelphi Theatre; Love for Love, National Theatre; and Dingo, Royal Court Theatre, London, England.


London Drama Critics Award for best play of the year, 1980, for Duet for One.



The Peasants Revolt, produced in Essex, England, 1971.

The English Civil War, produced in London, England, 1972.

Moscow Trials, produced in London, England, 1972.

Pageant of Labour History (four plays), produced in London, England, 1973.

(With Roger Smith) The Ballad of Robin Hood, produced in London, England, 1973.

(With Roger Smith) Sell-Out (1931), produced in London, England, 1974.

(Under pseudonym Gerrard Thomas) Flashpoint, produced in London, England, 1978.

What about Borneo? produced in London, England, 1978.

The Workshop (adaptation of a play by Jean-Claude Grumberg), produced in London, England, at the Oxford Playhouse, 1979; produced as The Work-room, in New Haven, CT, 1982.

Japanese Noh Plays (for children), produced in Leicester, England, 1979.

Mayakovsky (adaptation of a work by Stefan Schütz), produced in London, England, 1979.

Duet for One (two-act play; produced in London, England, 1980, and on Broadway, 1981), Samuel French (London, England), 1981.

Dreyfus (adaptation of the play by Jean-Claude Grumberg), produced in London, England, 1982.

The Beautiful Part of Myself, produced in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, 1983.

(With Roger Smith) Life of Karl Marx, produced in London, England, 1984.

Self-inflicted Wounds, produced in Mold, Clwyd, Wales, 1985.

Separation (produced in London, England, 1987), Samuel French (London, England), 1989.

Sex Please, We're Italian, produced in London, England, 1991.

A Free Country (adaptation of a play by Jean-Claude Grumberg), produced in London, England, 1991.

When the Past Is Still to Come, produced in London, England, 1992.

What a Bleedin' Liberty, produced in Stratford, England, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, 1996.

Addicted to Love, produced in London, England, at the Bristol Old Vic, 1996.

Chatterton, produced in London, England, at the New End Theatre, 2001.

Family, produced in London, England, at the New End Theatre, 2001.

High Jumpers, produced in London, England, at the New End Theatre, 2001.

Penthesilea, produced in London, England, at the New End Theatre, 2001.

Also author, with Roger Smith, of play October, produced in 1973. Author of the screenplays Duet forOne (with Jeremy Lipp and Andrei Konchalovsky), 1987, and Separation, WETA-TV, 1990.


Tom Kempinski began his career as an actor on stage, film, and television before focusing on writing plays in the early 1970s. In his plays, Kempinski—who suffered from agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces, for fifteen years—writes about people under intense pressures, the causes ranging from debilitating illnesses to intense self-doubts. Kempinski once commented about his plays in Contemporary Dramatists, noting: "There are two kinds of oppression in the world: the oppression of one group in society by another, and the oppression of one part of a person by another part of the same person. I write about both kinds, because I have experienced both—and also studied and struggled to change both."

Although Kempinski has also tried his hand at comedy with Sex Please, We're Italian, critics generally agree that drama is his forte. As a result, the playwright has focused most of his efforts on dramas, such as Self-inflicted Wounds, about a Nazi hunter battling with his wavering courage, and Flashpoint, about a soldier who takes his own platoon hostage in order to stop the execution of a deserter. A Contemporary Dramatists contributor commented that "Kempinski's strengths are always in the personal dramas." Kempinski stated in Contemporary Dramatists that his "'personal' plays are characterized by attempts to penetrate beneath the surface of people's deeds to their inner, and often concealed motives."

In his play Separation, first staged in London, England, in 1987, Kempinski turned to his own battle with agoraphobia for inspiration in his depiction of an overweight British playwright who sinks deeper into depression as he finds himself confined to his apartment because of his struggle with agoraphobia, a mental affliction that can lead to panic attacks. The playwright holds a series of long-distance telephone conversations with an actress in New York City who wants to appear in one of his plays, even though she is suffering from a severe neurological disorder. Kempinski continued his autobiographical exploration with When the Past Is Still to Come. Staged in London in 1992, the play focuses on a patient and psychiatrist as it delves into the psyche of Tom, who is obsessed with his weight, sex, the Holocaust, and a host of other issues. Writing in the Spectator, Sheridan Morley reported that "while admiring Kempinski's courage in self-revelation … one still guiltily wishes he'd … go back to being a dramatist rather than a self-analyst."

Most critics agree that Kempinski's most successful play is Duet for One, which won a London Drama Critics Award and was also made into a film starring Julie Andrews and Alan Bates. First produced in London in 1980 and on Broadway in 1981, the play focuses on Stephanie Abrahams, a gifted concert violinist who has multiple sclerosis (MS). Suffering from increasing depression, Stephanie sees the life she once knew slip away as her physical health slowly deteriorates. Most of the play focuses on Stephanie's combative sessions with a psychiatrist, Dr. Feldmann, who was recommended by Stephanie's husband, a successful composer. Writing a review of the play's 1982 New York staging, Boston Globe writer Kevin Kelly found the play's ending to have "fizzled into a short circuit" as it ends with Stephanie leaving her psychiatrist's office "to a phlegmatically uncertain future." However, he also noted that "Kempinski showed considerable skill in characterization" and added that the play is, "at the very least, interesting for most of its two acts." In a review of a 2002 staging of the play in Oxford, England, Stephanie Kitchen, writing on the Daily Info, Oxford, Web site, commented, "this is not an easy evening's theatre and does not claim to be so. The play is long and at times drawn-out; pondering on its painful subject." The Contemporary Dramatists essayist acknowledged that the play has weaknesses in that it "follows a predictable emotional outline" but also pointed out that "Duet for One remains the strongest of Kempinski's plays, largely because it is such a successful theatrical piece, and its effectiveness as a vehicle for a sensitive actress disguises or counterbalances its weaknesses."



Contemporary Dramatists, sixth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Boston Globe, January 5, 1992, Kevin Kelly, review of Duet for One, p. 1.

People, July 2, 1990, David Hiltbrand, review of Separation, p. 8.

Spectator (London, England), July 13, 1991, Christopher Edwards, review of Sex Please, We're Italian, p. 36; September 19, 1992, Sheridan Morley, review of When the Past Is Still to Come, p. 48.


Daily Info, Oxford, Web site, (September 12, 2002), Stephanie Kitchen, review of Duet for One.

Virtual City Web site, (September 28, 2004), "English Theatre, Frankfurt—Tom Kempinski."*