Content warning: discussion of rape and emotional abuse
Reviewed by Rowan Gourlay
‘The One’, written by Vicky Jones, is a play that throws up more questions than answers. Although just 65 minutes long, its brazen depiction of an intensely toxic relationship leaves the audience exhausted.
The play opens with Jo and Harry, played by Cassandra Cassidy and Sam Coade, having sex and watching porn. Jo is evidently disinterested, eating Wotsits and not looking at Harry. It’s a shocking image, and one that captures the outrageous yet dispassionate play nicely.
‘The One’ takes place over the course of a single night, as Jo and Harry wait for news of Jo’s sister, who is in labour. The real tension begins when Kerry, one of Harry’s colleagues - it later emerges that both Harry and Kerry taught Jo at university - turns up uninvited, declaring that her boyfriend has raped her.
Jo’s reaction is appallingly cruel, questioning and laughing at Kerry's claim, before announcing that Kerry is the true rapist because she did not say no or push her boyfriend away. Jo’s attitude is clearly an extreme example of the way society consistently undermines victims of sexual violence; she’s immediately categorised as a vindictive bully, and the horrifying product of rape culture.
However, things are not quite that straightforward.
The power that Jo seems to hold swiftly dissipates as Harry declares that he does ‘things like that’ to her ‘all the time’.
As the play progresses, the audience are forced to constantly question Jo and Harry’s relationship: do they even like each other or are they just lying and taunting their way through the evening? Harry appears to be controlling and abusive, although to what extent he is acting out Jo’s fantasies is not clear.
The power balance between the two swings wildly, and it is sometimes hard to keep up. The actors cope well with the constantly changing dynamics. Jo spends the entire play dressed only in lacy underwear, which makes her seem both incredibly vulnerable and intimidatingly confident at the same time. One of the most shocking moments of the play is a somewhat gratuitous rape fantasy scene, especially as it is not clear whether or not it is consensual.
Consent and power in relationships are the main themes of ‘The One’, and it certainly encourages the audience to reflect on the way that we deal with these issues in society. However, what exactly it is trying to say about these issues is not that clear. This was by no means the fault of the actors, who dealt very well with the intense script, which had the potential to seem exaggerated.
‘The One’ is a play that opens up difficult questions without providing easy answers. It forces the audience to consider them, but refuse to lay down a blueprint for how we should go about it.