The One at Soho Theatre
Vicky Jones and her writing theatre company DryWrite – co-founded with fellow artistic director Pheobe Waller-Bridge – are flying high at the moment, from their breakout Fleabag to Jone’s acclaimed screenplay for the opening episode of Killing Eve. The dramatist is hailed as a new, fresh voice, bringing to the stage the vulgar, comic and gritty parts of contemporary femininity. It is interesting, therefore, that The One, her debut play, seems to ring a lot of bells. The clear comparison is with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; the central couple battles it out – dragging in a third party – exchanging hyper-eloquent insults against the backdrop of competitive academia. When The One was premiered in 2014, it asked what that relationship meant now. It is only fitting that we ask again in 2018. If we truly are in a post #metoo era – with all the rules rewritten – what does the boundary-pushing, perpetually fighting, socially privileged couple look like?
Bret Yount is a veteran of theatre violence and was brought in not just to choreograph the physical conflict in the piece but also the sex scenes, a duality that runs through the whole production. The characters test the edges of consent and brutality, buoyed with a physicality and vulgarity constructed by Yount and built into the way they utilise the stage space by director Steve Marmion. The impeccable interpretation of Jones’ dialogue – with its overlaps, interruptions and pauses – by Tuppence Middleton and John Hopkins as Jo and Harry adds to this sense of precariousness. Both performers do an excellent job of flirting with limits, with the former giving an especially powerful performance as a woman simultaneously omnipotent and powerless in relation to her older partner.
This central battle is framed by a medley of objects and ideas that throw the couple into relief but also feed their dysfunction. The duration of the drama is marked by the labour of Jo’s sister, taking place in a far-off hospital with updates arriving through text. This is the trace of a seemingly joyous, successful relationship but it is manifested by Jo in gory, clinical details of dilation and caesarian sections. Marmion picks up on this by interspersing the “scenes” – none set more than a few hours apart – with the syrupy soundtrack of The Phantom of the Opera. Although this juxtaposition can seem a little on the nose, it raises interesting questions about the connection between the romantic and the possessive.
The central question of the play, however, is whether we have really changed. Have the intervening decades since Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the apparent cataclysm of #metoo changed us and the way men and women interact? The characters use more socially conscious words draped in irony, but at the core are wracked with insecurity around virility, pregnancy and libido. This production does an excellent and sometimes uncomfortable job of interrogating these laden and vital questions.
Photo: Helen Maybanks
The One is at Soho Theatre from 5th July until 25th August 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.