‘The One’ review: an unflinching exploration of modern sexual politics

“we are special, we are invincible, we are above the rules”


'The One' is an uncomfortable nosedive into modern sexual politics and relationships in the age of open relationships and Tinder. Following Harry, a thirty-something English professor and Jo, his ex-student turned lover, as they try to make sense of the toxic passion they share for one another after a surprise from Kerry, a 'friend' of Harry's from the past.

To say that Jo is complex is an understatement: she trivialises rape, laughs at abortions, and takes sadistic pleasure in mocking Harry, yet is never unlikable or obscene. Ariana Van Biljon switches from displaying childish irreverence and facetiousness to a manipulative modern Lady Macbeth. Her mindset is never easy to read, and that is what makes her performance so enticing yet also unsettling. The audience never know what she will do next. Her sometimes cold sometimes maniacal reactions to Esther Levin’s Kerry ensure that there Is always underlying tension between the two women – moments where this conflict was brought to the forefront were the certainly the most nasty yet potent scenes of the play.

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Despite less stage time, Levin seems to fully inhabit her character, implying that there is a living and breathing person who exists even when off stage. Turing up at Harry's apartment in the middle of the night after potentially being raped by her boyfriend, her narrative arc is side-lined to Harry and Jo’s despite the fact it raises questions surrounding sexual violence that leave the audience wanting to learn more about her life.

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At the centre of the play is Aaron Ruzanski’s insecure yet bold Harry. He makes the audience question if he really is a cruel and pretentious misogynist, or if his whole persona is a carefully constructed façade which he clumsily executes in an attempt to impress Jo. As classically handsome as he is, he seemed at first hesitant to fully commit to Van Biljon’s crazed enthusiasm. However, once in his stride, he masterfully played off of Van Biljon’s intensity during more dramatic moments where the line between fantasy and reality blur, giving the audience the impression that there is far more to Harry than meets the eye.

Sophie Cullis’s creative direction further highlighted this distinction: the use of clips from classic Italian and French films (exactly the kind of bourgeois pretentiousness Harry would enjoy) to mark scene changes provides the audience with the images of the perfect romance, only to be reminded of its unattainable nature when contrasted with Harry and Jo’s childish teasing and taunting: their sexual fantasy will always remain a fantasy, something that seems to torture the couple.

Hatfield’s Birley room was the perfect choice of venue as it perfectly accompanied Harry’s snobbish persona with its Georgian walls covered in paintings and piles of books strewn everywhere. The stage, whilst being small enough to allow the audience to be intimate with the drama, never fully engulfed the performers, giving the audience the perfect viewing position into the shifting power dynamics and uncomfortable confrontations.

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'The One' never pretends that it is a straightforward story when it comes to morality or psychology, addressing many, but never fully exploring, modern-day issues. Despite this, Cullis’s production is a confident and professional take on Vicky Jones’s play which showcases some of Durham’s best theatrical talent, it certainly deserves to be seen.

The final performance of 'The One' on the 11th at 7:30 at the Birley room in Hatfield.

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