Left – Emily Tomplins & Ben Prendergast. Cover – Kasia Kaczmarek & Ben Prendergast. Photos – Pier Carthew
The One, by UK playwright Vicky Jones, won the Verity Bargate Award in 2003 and is now enjoying a season here at Fortyfivedownstairs. Adapted for Australian audiences by Rachel Perks, The One is a granddaughter of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. This story, set in something like a Fitzroy milk bar conversion, plays out over one night in the life of a materially comfortable couple, Jo (Kasia Kaczmarek) and Harry (her real life partner Ben Prendergast), who are getting drunk, watching porn and having desultory sex while staying awake to hear about the birth of Jo’s sister’s baby. They’ve been together ten years and they’re bored so they turn on each other, goading each other into saying what they really think about their union.
The One looks at what happens when a woman eschews traditional conciliatory feminine conditioning and declares war on keeping the peace. Jo refuses to nurture, refuses to accommodate, refuses to lie, and rather than tiptoe around their relationship issues she invites conflict with Harry, who’s happy to play along with their game of honesty. On the surface of it Harry holds the power; he’s a professor of English, older than Jo, who’s his ex-pupil. Plus Harry has another woman, Kerry (Emily Tomlins) to fall back on if Jo turfs him out. When Kerry turns up, vulnerable and frightened, wanting to dissect her own ailing relationship, the couple turns on her. To begin with Harry and Jo seem perfectly matched psychologically in their provocative disturbing power struggle. But this is a match to the death.
The three actors are fine but the tone of the play’s opening seems at odds with what follows, there’s a somewhat mannered arch ‘bleak sit-com’ element to the tone of performance at first, inviting one response to the play, but then it shifts into something more naturalistic. At first I wasn't sure how to relate to the play, whether to sit back and be entertained, and stimulated by ideas, or to care (or both), nevertheless I was gripped by the dialogue, the chatacters and the story, and was pleasantly shocked, which is always fun.
One of the themes of the play concerns the question of when not-quite-consensual sex becomes rape. Jo is frustrated with Harry’s ‘weakness’, and asks him outright to violate her while Kerry defines the sex she’s just had with her partner as rape because she didn’t want it and her partner pressed on regardless, although she did nothing to stop him. Jo challenges Kerry, charging her with being a victim. Deeply interesting questions are raised (but not answered) here.
While Jo and Harry’s destruction of each other is sickening, it has a raw bloody vigour as they wrestle with truth and power; theirs is a dynamic connection compared to the more conventional relationship Kerry is stuck in, with its unspoken, passive aggression. At 65 minutes The One is an uncompromisingly short play – a thoroughly enjoyable shot of viciousness and a raucous screeching challenge to the commodified fantasy of cosy middle-class coupledom.
Fire Curtain Co. present
by Vicky Jones
Directed by Tanya Dickson
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 2 – 13 Dec 2015
Part of the 2015 Poppy Seed Festival