The One at Soho Theatre will put your own relationship crazy into perspective
When Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag hit stages and screens in 2013 and 2016 respectively, it caused quite the commotion. So rarely had we vanilla audiences seen such an unapologetically depraved, flawed and (frankly) fucked-up woman carry a lead role in such a hilarious and often moving way.
It makes sense, then, that there is more than a whiff of the character that sent Waller-Bridge soaring to stardom within The One, written by play-Fleabag’s director Vicky Jones. Debuted in 2013, The One takes place over a single night (condensed into just an hour for the stage), and follows the relationship between Jo and Harry, a volatile couple who met at university when she was a student and he a tutor 10 years her senior. As the evening flies by at the same pace the couple are throwing punches at each other, we witness them test the boundaries of communication and consent.
Tuppence Middleton and John Hopkins do an excellent job at rendering both Jo and Harry as despicable — so much so that it’s hard to say which character I dislike more. They tease, manipulate and punish in a constantly revolving power-play, whilst Harry’s drippy friend and ex-lover Kerry (Julia Sandiford) gets caught in the middle. The Kerry subplot is key to the play’s success: tackling the ‘was it rape or not?’ topic so pertinent to today’s continuing #MeToo conversation, Jones’ script is fearless in its use of Kerry as a tool for opening this dialogue. It’s refreshing to see complex female characters grapple with controversial issues, coming out with lines that both dismay and dismantle modern feminism.
The One is shocking, funny, taboo-obliterating, and loaded with topical themes. The problem for me is this: there’s just nothing likeable about the characters. I’m not suggesting that this is a prerequisite for successful theatre — obviously not — but in this instance I just didn’t really care about what happened to Jo and Harry. Any apparent progress they appeared to be making was soon undercut by their repetitive, hair-tearingly frustrating behaviour — with every step forward, three were taken back. By the end of the performance, I felt as though I’d peered through a window into a life: superficially, it’s interesting, but ultimately the compulsion is to just keep on walking.
Still worth a watch for the shock value, The One lacks a certain evocation of empathy I expected from a member of the DryWrite team. Nonetheless, it enthrals if only for its depiction of a dysfunctional relationship. Do pop along to Soho theatre this summer if you ever feel like your own relationship crazy is getting too much, because it really will put things into perspective.
What did you think of The One? Let us know in the comments below!