views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The One
The Lion and Unicorn Theatre
3rd September


Malcom Jeffries and Meg Coombs as Harry and Jo

Photography supplied by Bad Mojo Theatre

Remember every bad relationship you ever had? Mix all the worst bits together, add a little venom and you've got Harry (Malcom Jeffries) and Jo (Meg Coombs). They know each other, you could even describe them as a team of sorts, but they become truly awful people in each other's presence bringing out the other's most toxic tendencies. Theirs is a relationship full of blurred lines and misunderstood desires and perhaps unsurprisingly, they're now at the point where they're both questioning whether they want it to continue. Harry's colleague, friend and ex all wrapped into one enters the equation, with the sudden arrival of Kerry (Claudia Campbell) actually bringing more clarity to their situation than confusion. With so many different power imbalances and wants, Vicky Jones' The One is a very intense piece of writing, with all its ugliness captured well by director Hannah Boland Moore.

Much of the production's success is undoubtedly down to the script itself, with Jones writing three highly complex characters very realistically. We've all done ridiculous and regretful things when emotionally wounded and Jones doesn't hold her punches. None of the characters are likeable, however that doesn't stop us from relating to them and that is what gives the production so much power. We learn a lot about Harry and Jo from the opening scene: Harry treats Jo like a toy to satisfy his own carnal desires, but equally Jo accepts this and knowingly starves him of any real affection and warmth. Although Kerry's fixation on Harry is predictable and pointless, he's clearly never discouraged her from forming such an attachment. Whilst Jo is cruel to Kerry, the other woman is hell bent on, well, coming the "the other woman". In trying to pick a side, it's a less a case of "who is the most right?" but "who is the least wrong?"

As well as all the hurtful game playing, there are still plenty of humorous moments in the bleakest of places, with an impromptu late-night debate about what constitutes rape provoking thought as well as laughter. Kerry's hysteria, Harry's overprotectiveness and Jo's lack of sympathy all combine in an explosive and wickedly funny manner. It's a risky scene for more than one reason and yet the company all manage to get the balance right, somehow managing not to offend. As a whole, the play is probably more "tragi-" than "comedy" yet it's certainly enthralling however you decide to classify it.

Designer Gaia Chanrai lines the coffee table with "obvious" book choices, which remind us of Harry's job as a lecturer and the uneasy knowledge that Jo used to be his student. We never find out the exact circumstances and whether Harry is indeed guilty of grooming a younger girl or whether she was emotionally and physically an adult when they first met. This ambiguity lingers throughout, adding to the charged atmosphere. Whether or not all three players are in the room at the same time, there's always a lot of tension as we await the next move.

It's a brave company that takes on a script originally written for Phoebe Waller-Bridge, an actress who seemingly can do no wrong and has conquered both Edinburgh as well as down here, however Bad Mojo have enthusiastically done so head on. The One is a captivating piece of drama with some very strongly and clearly defined characters that will give you cause to rethink your attitudes towards relationships and dating.

The One opened on 29th August and runs until 10th September 2016 at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Kentish Town (Northern)

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