Writer: Vicky Jones
Director: Hannah Boland Moore
The One was the winner of the 2013 Verity Bargate Award and premiered the following year at Soho Theatre. Now brought to Lion &Unicorn for its first production since then, it seems a surprise that it’s had to wait this long for another outing. Vicky Jones’ script is a subtly nuanced exploration of issues of control and power played out through the sexual and emotional relations of its two main characters.
Harry (Malcolm Jeffries) and Jo (Meg Coombs) are the professor and student whose mutually destructive relationship is at the heart of the play. As the play opens they are having perfunctory sex on a sofa while Jo watches TV and eats crisps. The scene of distorted domesticity is a good introduction to the characters, and its interruption with the arrival of Harry’s best friend, Kerry (Claudia Campbell) sets up a good dynamic between the three of them. As Kerry proceeds to tell Harry about the bad experience she has had that evening, Jo shows her lack of concern with questions about how Kerry wants her tea and whether she wants biscuits.
The first sign that this is not just a tale of relationships and resentments comes quickly as Jo switches from dismissive to sarcastic and then confrontational, challenging Kerry’s version of events and opening up a debate where she paints both Kerry and Harry as guilty of forced non-consensual sex. It is an obvious flashpoint but rather than sounding vicious and personally motivated, it seemed more like a quickly developed opinion, suggesting the play was going to be a general discussion of sexual politics and issues of consent, rather than a focused exploration of them through the dynamic of Harry and Jo’s relationship.
Harry’s relationship with Kerry and the pregnancy of Jo’s sister are where their battles are played out, both in what they say and in the history that lies beneath their words, but the production seldom went beyond the surface of the relationship with the actors playing out everyday situations rather than looking at the motivations and power struggles that underpinned them. Because of this, the relationship didn’t appear as highly charged or toxic as it needed to be for the subsequent discussion of Jo’s emasculation of Harry, and his apparent helplessness in the face of it, to be convincing. For the most part, they appeared to be simply a couple for who bickering and mutual antagonism were part of their day to day lives rather than the public face of a darker relationship. It was late in the day when it became clear that this wasn’t an equal relationship, and later still when we began to question who really held the power in it.
It was often entertaining, with a lot of fast-paced, sharply observed, verbal tennis, and a few shocking moments as the relationship disintegrated and the foundations of it were exposed. At the same time, however, it was very rarely thought-provoking and hard to feel sympathy or loathing for any of the characters. Because of that, it feels like a production that doesn’t really do justice to the richness of the material it had to work with.
Runs until 10 September 2016 | Image:Arthur Jones