The dramatically romantic soundtrack of The Phantom of the Opera introduces the sense of an electrical love story and a dark desire for power and powerlessness, which creeps into every word and action of the couple Jo (Tuppence Middleton) and Harry (John Hopkins) when the night, and their relationship, unfolds in The One.
The thickness of the romantic tunes is nevertheless set in sharp contrast to the opening scene which presents the couple in a scene of intimacy that is routine in their love life, yet both are disconnected from each other while having sex. This image of trivial boredom is the trigger for Vicky Jones’ award-winning play The One, which invites the audience into its destructive spiral of love, lust and games of power and approval. After the success of the play Touch last summer, Jones’ debut play returns to the Soho Theatre. Directed by Steve Marmion, Jo and Harry uncompromisingly push each other to the limits within the assumingly playful frame of witty games to test, expand and zest their relationship of interdependency between a professor and his ex-student.
Jo and Harry are up all night at their home to wait for Jo’s sister to give birth in the hospital. Awaiting the message for a life changing event, their relationship is stripped down to its very essence: their mutual dependence on each other and fear of separation and change. Throughout the night, they discuss the possible option for a temporary separation in a “thinking week”, an open relationship or a possible trip to the British museum to leave the mundane routine at home behind. The unannounced visits from Harry’s colleague Kerry (Julia Sandiford) shed light on a past abortion, Kerry and Harry’s past affair, and the line between ‘a form of’ rape and mutual satisfaction in a relationship. As the hours pass and the wine flows, Jo and Harry’s darkly comic battle of wit moves towards an existential conversation about power dynamics translating words onto a physical level (Fight Director is Bret Yount). The essence of words is twisted, re-visited and silenced throughout the night and influences, questions and misshapes the consequences of actions in their daring games until the climax of sunrise.
Jones’ play The One offers various layers and an intimate, immersive and intellectual evening. The development of the play is a bravura of writing to circle around the interdependency and intimacy of the couple offering surprising twists and bittersweet turns. The character Kerry serves as a catalyst to move the play forward from the impasse of excitement and fear of change in an established routine. She is the only chance Harry and Jo have to untangle their inescapable bond with each other. Harry and Jo furthermore escape any solid characterisation as they are fluid and move along each other’s energy and reactions. Jones has created two highly convincing characters on their quest for happiness, anchor and independence in their dependent lives on each other.
The embodiment of Jo and Harry is outstandingly performed by Middleton and Hopkins. As much as Jones created the contours of the two characters, both actors fill them not only with life but with passion and dedication. Their connectedness drives the play forward and assures the punchlines to hit. The transitions of scenes as a passing of time, gradually reveal the essence of their relationship and reinforce the underlying tensions and desires by focusing on their ambivalent posture towards each other. The merge of dark comedy with the melody of despair and yet the melancholy of boredom, is skilfully delivered to create this striking portrayal of love, lust, lies and loneliness.
The One is a cleverly constructed, thought-provoking and daring, yet entertaining and enjoyable show which should not be missed this summer at Soho Theatre. Jones has created a play which deeply touches and unsettles, and which questions the line between love and possession, and independence and interdependency. The combination of the craft of playwriting, directing, staging and acting transforms this production into a sensational feast for the eyes, brain and the heart.
The One is playing at Soho Theatre until 25 August
Photo: Helen Maybanks