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Review: The One (Soho Theatre)

Vicky Jones' play is revived at the Soho Theatre

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Tuppence Middleton and John Hopkins in The One
© Helen Maybanks

Blimey this is dark. Vicky Jones' twisted comedy about a couple in a toxic, games-playing (in more than one sense) relationship was first seen in 2014 with a different cast and here it is at Soho again, its ability to shock undiminished. Just over an hour long – and realistically I think that's enough for anybody to stomach – it packs one hell of a provocative punch. It's also a tremendously accomplished fusion of writing, performance and stagecraft, that entertains as much as it shocks.

As with her more recent piece Touch, Jones proves a master at creating multi-layered characters, who express themselves in pithy, smart dialogue with a potent sense of roiling disquiet discernible beneath their urbane exteriors. Harry and Jo are first seen participating in frantic but unenthusiastic sofa sex, Jo distracting herself from the erotic tedium by eating Wotsits and frequently changing the TV channels with a remote control. It's funny, rather sad and a bit uncomfortable. Any discomfort prompted by this unedifying opening image is as nothing however compared with what follows.

Jones' characters – recognisable if not necessarily likeable – have no filter and taboo topics such as rape, domestic violence, control, childlessness, infidelity are dragged into the open to have a sometimes surprising light shine upon them. In it's forensic, unflinching examination of the casual cruelty couples inflict on each other, the piece often resembles Patrick Marber's Closer, and displays a similar mordant, intelligent wit. There are also shades of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? in the use of childlessness as a marital weapon and the way Jo and Harry turn on the unfortunate interloper who turns up in distress to witness their epically dark night of the soul.

Julia Sandiford, Tuppence Middleton and John Hopkins
© Helen Maybanks

The acting is astonishing: detailed and unsparing. John Hopkins and Tuppence Middleton utterly convince as a pair of sexy, messed-up oddballs whose loathing for each other is equalled only by their loathing for themselves. Hopkins brilliantly runs the gamut between alpha male and wheedling loser, finding many colours in between, while Middleton turns Jo's emotional ambiguity into something thrilling and unsettling. Julia Sandiford's Kerry – the upset visitor with her own agenda – is impressively steely yet brittle, despite her character feeling a little like a plot device, a rare misstep in this otherwise remarkable script.

Anthony Lamble's fancifully elegant city apartment set serves as a metaphor for the play itself in that nothing is as straightforward as it appears: bookshelves float in a night sky, there are hidden troughs on each side into which characters empty endless bottles of red wine like so much emotional blood-letting, a skeletal staircase leads into a void. Steve Marmion's tense, note-perfect staging plays out like a compulsive, red-raw mash-up of parlour game, therapy session and edgy sitcom, the fascination level being further upped by the fact that it is never clear who is telling the truth, and who is in control. Jones skilfully drip-feeds information about her characters; stop listening for a moment – not that you'll want to – and you may miss something vital.

This compelling combination of unpalatable truth, hilarity and brazen nastiness may prove too uncomfortable for some couples, while single people might just be thanking their lucky stars. I thought it was brilliant.