The One is a fantastic dark comedy about the unstable relationship between a professor and his former student. Jo (Tuppence Middleton) is a wild and enigmatic girl who jousts with the older Harry (John Hopkins) while they stay up late drinking wine. However, for all their teasing that is sometimes extremely rough and physical, it seems they will always gravitate back towards each together.
Harry and Jo’s relationship could be defined as strong yet volatile. Harry is a doctor of English Literature and rather arrogant about his intelligence, but the jaded and beautiful Jo represents the one marvel he cannot understand and control. At first Harry seems predatory to a fearful extreme, but really he just wants to anchor Jo to him because he is deathly afraid she will leave him. Hopkins plays Harry brilliantly as a witty and charming professional who can quickly switch into an impatient and violent beast.
What makes The One so entertaining is the humour of its anti-climaxes. There is no denying that Jo and Harry are intelligent and witty, but the mundanity of their trappings offsets this nicely, so that serious moments are undercut by ridiculous developments. For instance, the bored Jo tosses Wotsits into her mouth while having sex with a grunting Harry, she also later squabbles with Harry over tea during a critical moment. This might seem simply facetious of her, but that added sense of uncomfortable tension is what makes The One so wonderfully disturbing and weird. It is confusingly sinister that Harry and Jo’s relationship isn’t predicated on mutual romantic, sexual or emotional attraction, but is rather a series of games and tricks based on manipulation.
The nocturnal setting feels appropriate for this play in its focus on a wine-fuelled, hedonistic and anxious tryst. Admittedly, the set design with the oversized moon and twinkling stars on the back wall of the modern flat is slightly bizarre. However, this isn’t too detrimental since the set isn’t the main attraction here.
Kerry (Julia Sandiford) is an unwanted guest who graces the couple’s doorstep, bringing an alarming accusation with her. She alleges that her partner has just raped her, although she confesses that she never indicated her distress or vocalised not wanting sex. Jo jumps on this, determined to twist the knife into Kerry who has interrupted her night. Jo shows a bitchy streak here, which is portrayed well by Middleton because it makes her seductive character all the more dangerous for her complacency and malevolence.
The thrill of chaos is what binds Jo and Harry together. Sadly for Kerry, she could never slot easily into this kind of environment, since she is too naïve and awkward. Kerry and Harry worked in the same faculty once, but it is clear that her affections are far more potent and deluded than his. Sandiford plays the part well by showing Kerry as this clever, needy and somewhat frustrated middle-aged lecturer.
The trauma of colliding with each other so often is quite damaging for Harry and Jo. Her perverse fantasies and increasingly higher threshold of pain tolerance is quite demanding on Harry, given that he cannot keep up with her destructive fascinations. The pair come close to parting ways, but it seems like the forces holding them together are too powerful to let this happen, and so we anticipate they will continue to love one another in their odd ways.