FringeReview UK 2018
Directed by Soho artistic director Steve Marmion with Anthony Lamble’s naturalistic set featuring drunken symbolism. Rob Casey’s lighting etches a neon rectangle above and gradates one night flickered with a few lights-down moments. Gareth Fry’s sound mainly blasts out Phantom of the Opera. And Bret Yount’s fight direction really is needed.
If you care about new writing, you’ll need to see this. The return of Vicky Jones’ debut The One four years after its award-winning Soho premiere finds Jones changed – not least after her The Touch also premiered here last year.
Both The One and Touch prove Jones superbly adroit across sexual politics, plot, dialogue…. and wettingly funny. Though with her TV and film profile burgeoning, we need more plays from her.
It’s not just Jones who’s changed. In the wake of #Me Too The One seems more shockingly prescient and hardly less shocking than it did back in 2014. A vivid slash – not just dissection – of toxic co-dependent lust, it’s as addictive as couple Jo and Harry find each other. And old flame Kerry finds Harry.
Directed by Soho artistic director Steve Marmion with Anthony Lamble’s naturalistic set edged with drunken symbolism, nothing gets in the way. Not the comfy sofa and raised kitchen area where plates smash offstage. Nor casual costumery and Kerry’s damningly subfusc anorak. Nor the runnels where bottles of wine are ritually poured to mark passing time (clearly moving clock hands aren’t enough). Rob Casey’s lighting etches a neon rectangle above – a ubiquitous signature in some venues – and gradates one night flickered with a few lights-down moments. Gareth Fry’s sound mainly blasts out Phantom of the Opera so Harry can karaoke it. And Bret Yount’s fight direction really is needed.
Who’s afraid of a hot tin roof? From the start Jo’s coolly catching Wotsits in her mouth as Harry’s humping her, seems an act of mutual violence. Both are more engaged with the porn pumping their flaccid imaginations as they wait for news about Jo’s sister’s giving birth.
Jokes about two, three, ten centimetres intercut with sex and a desperate heartlessness trying to locate humanity by displacement. It soon becomes clear though that they’re engaged in a terminal co-dependency of their life as first boredom, then fear. Trying to leave each other opens up chasms like the wine bottles each empty into the void.
John Hopkins – plaintive, occasionally menacing – gleams with need and resentment. A lecturer who’s poached a pupil seven years his junior, Harry’s got a five o’clock moral shadow. Tuppence Middleton’s Jo though chose him, tauntingly forcing his hand with Kerry, viciously unrepentant. Middleton inhabits the role written for Phoebe Waller-Bridge as if her own: she and Hopkins circle each other with more outrageous lies, more manipulation up to the last crackle of supressed rage, and love burned to hatred back when coal was made.
Commenting on reality TV and ‘whorey slut’ leads to intellectual sparring or ‘commoratio’ (the art of keeping to the point) ‘… sex drive like yours. Penchant for professors. Never presumed I was the only one.’ A sparring over whether whores are sluts (not if only professional Jo maintains) and visa versa isn’t just Eng. Lit, it’s how Harry’s trying to land definitions on Jo, whilst praising her sexuality, owning and slurring her in parentheses. It’s superbly taut acting. You can’t imagine this bettered.
Playfully familiar then: games are interrupted by new players who get snared in the rules. Julia Sandiford’s Kerry, like Harry an English lecturer and an old lover, haunts the hallway. Sandiford’s also outstanding as earnest pc-goody but ruthless two-shoes parked on Jo’s mat – touched with WI.
Kerry’s sure she’s just been sexually assaulted by her boyfriend, though neither complained not resisted. Harry takes her side, Jo the boyfriend’s (this gender alignment resurfaces in Nina Raine’s magnificent Consent, though more heavily). Here it’s a pretext though, as Kerry’s squashed in a far deadlier game. No matter Jo was a favourite pupil of hers too, as she claims, there’s no mercy as Kerry returns to snatch: it’s clear she’s been lurking outside all night. When Kerry met Harry it ain’t.
There’s some nudges here, appropriately with Eng. Lit. Jones invokes canonical cat-fight plays then smashes them, like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? One piece of cruelty echoes that play though not before Jo eggs Harry to enact something bordering on rape, and turns on him, twice. How much though is Jo complicit with what she’s unleashed, demanding savageries she means to repay. There’s a twist in the vey last direction too. The One might last an hour. It possesses the theatrical heft and linguistic power to suggest twice that, and you won’t blink. Nor does Jones. This breaks rules as it makes them. See it.