Trigger Warning: Mentions/Discusses Rape, Sexual Abuse, Toxic Relationship(s).
The One focuses on the intense relationship between Harry (Aaron Rozanski) and Jo (Ariana Van Biljon). In the intimate setting of Hatfield College’s Birley Room, the audience becomes physically and mentally immersed in the extreme feelings and difficulties facing these characters. This is intensified by the presence of Kerry (Esther Levin), who disrupts the fluidity of the passing night with her own romantic feelings for Harry. As a result, the audience not only interact with one couple, but they must also contend with the notion of the outside world. This is a world in which the enclosed secrets of domesticity escalate into multiple issues; rape, abortion, emasculation, womanhood and youth are explored with inextricable links to deceit.
The play seems to begin before its ‘official’ commencement. With no wings or curtains, the audience is exposed to the stripped-down existence of the couple’s home. This effectively introduces the themes of doubling and deception. I found myself watching and speculating about these individuals without this actually being part of the running time. This powerfully reflects the human desire to look between the ridges of facades, Harry and Jo seeming to watch their own relationship without reaching a satisfying resolution. This potently drives greater questions about how people find ways of seeing and looking at things that cannot be contained within conventional labels. Both Van Biljon and Rozanski should be commended for their ability to command the stage with the sense of claustrophobia and discomfort that this relationship physically and verbally elicits.
The depth of emotion between Harry and Jo is amplified by the presence of Kerry. Levin confidently invades the performance’s central focus. Although her entrances and departures from the set may seem slightly cyclical, this repetition contributes to the troubling agency humans have to constantly create newness in ways that appear repeated or old.
In the intricacies of language, we learn of the uncomfortable thoughts and experiences of these characters, unpacking statements in a way we would not have previously assumed necessary. This is exemplified by the video clips from the television which appear behind the characters: they highlight moments of banal ordinariness during this harrowing night. However, at times the clips do feel slightly random, and do not always seem to synchronise themselves with the characters’ actions. This taints the powerful realism of these moments in amongst the otherwise dramatic, exaggerative, and dominating aspects of the play.
Particularly essential is the way that rape is treated. One cannot take its definition as something horrific at face value. We must unravel the way it is subjectively interpreted and is relative to what the individual has experienced. This illustrates the play’s hyperbolic dramatisation of social concepts that trigger difficult questions. The dialogue of the characters recurrently involves holding another person verbally hostage, testing where their limit lies.
Interestingly, it seems that there is a paradoxical use of space on the stage. Although Kerry and Harry are sat together on the sofa at points, whilst Jo sits separated on a chair, this only works to feed Kerry’s tragic illusion of intimacy with Harry. His love for Jo, although toxic and destructive, is like an addiction, their connection moving across the stage. Furthermore, in crammed moments of humour, the texts on their bookshelf, and mentions of the past, we recognise that this as a durable relationship.
The ending of the play is emotionally shattering, as it builds the expectation of a happy ending only for it to be torn down. We want to believe that a resolution is possible, as this would enable the night to be a strange lapse rather than an irrevocable insight into the truth. This uncomfortably forces us to question whether happy endings are often just an unrealistic closing point. Based on Jo’s continual lies, it is likely that she is creating yet another trick; as the play closes on her playing the piano, one sees her turn to a new form of ‘entertainment’.
This is a performance delving into the deeply personal, holding truth in the palm of Kerry’s confession of love, and deceit in the hands of Jo’s betrayal. Harry lies between these two women, being both victim and victimiser, as one watches a simultaneously emasculated man and a bully. These characters are not only drifting towards the edge of youth, but are drifting towards the edge of life. It seems that in truth there are lies and in lies there are truth, until one eventually succumbs to this as simply existence.
Letterbox Production’s The One continues for one final performance June 11th, 7:30pm at the Hatfield Birley Room.
(Image courtesy of Letterbox Productions)