Relationships can be fascinating, all-absorbing things; those in them can, over time, become increasingly defined by their relative position to the other half. In The One, Vicky Jones’s début as a playwright, the tensions between Jo (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Harry (Rufus Wright) are already quite strong when Kerry (Lu Corfield) walks in and prompts the pair to evaluate what they have together. Taking place over one long evening and a bit of the next morning, and fuelled by a lot of wine, some resemblance to Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? is undeniable.
Jo and Harry have been together for a long time. They met when Jo was a student: he is older, and the power relations between the two are playful and serious at the same time. They need their sex life reinvigorated, they’re bored in general, but as the action moves on it becomes clear that’s not all. The fresh start the relationship needs is at first disguised in games like Twister and karaoke, but the thirst is not that easily quenched, turning the room into a battle zone. It has to be noted that, however ambitiously these issues are constructed, we don’t get to know the characters too well – a shame since our attachment to their world has to be earned.
The One feels like a very modern play, in the way the characters are able to analyse their situation in the style of the advice column in every women’s magazine. While this is a valid point to make about contemporary culture, it also hampers the flow of the piece as sometimes the talking gets a bit too much and over-exposes narrative or background. Overall, however, this play gets better with every scene, as the question of whether Jo and Harry should be together at all becomes more pressing.
I am as yet unsure about the significance of the subplot of Jo’s sister, whose progress in labour is reported via texts from her mother throughout the evening. Perhaps a metaphor for the mix of pain and pleasure in the goings-on in the living room? At any rate, Steve Marmion’s direction brings out a lot of humour in what is essentially terribly sad. In particular, the coquettish but brutally honest Jo provokes a lot of laughs from the audience, though the comic timing is sometimes a bit off, and here and there lines are buried under laughter – a first night issue, surely.
All in all, a show with potential and an interesting look into the sexual politics of a twenty-first century couple faced with excruciating boredom.
The One is playing at Soho Theatre until 30 March. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.
Photo by Simon Kane.