Soho Theatre, DryWrite
“Rape me,” Jo (Tuppence Middleton) tells her partner Harry (John Hopkins) in Vicky Jones’s disturbing play, The One.
She makes the request during a long night of furious arguments as they wait for news of Jo’s sister who is in labour, and maybe that has played into their row given Jo had at some point chosen to have an abortion Harry did not want.
The play is a brutal snapshot of a wild, fractious relationship. The characters are fast-talking and quick-witted in a very cruel way to each other.
They are deeply insecure.
Harry snatches Jo’s diary so he can check things she says and he secretly looks at her e-mails. They are living in his house and he clearly tries to take the lead in their relationship.
Jo signals her rage without ever saying what it is she really wants, and takes regular opportunities to humiliate Harry, telling him he is a “little yapping whippet,” who “fucks like a rapist.”
Twice during the night, Harry’s colleague and friend Kerry (Julia Sandiford) arrives distressed about her own relationship and on the second occasion revealing things about her interest in Harry.
The wine flows and, though they seem sober, they say things that have the explosive mix of desperate meanness, scorching honesty and stupid fantasy that can sometimes mark a relationship in crisis.
All of which as theatre is engaging enough but Vicky Jones also raises provocative questions about rape and sexual violence that fit with some of the worries about the impact of the #MeToo movement.
Kerry claims to have been raped by her partner though she made no attempt to stop him or even to say no because she says he knew her well enough to know she didn’t want sex at that point.
In response, Jo argues ”if he’d known how you were feeling... he would have been mortified. He is a good man... the poor guy was just trying to have make-up sex with you. It’s the most selfish manipulative, mean-hearted thing you could possibly do to a person. In fact it’s you who raped him.”
Later, Jo insists that Harry “rape” her. Although he is reluctant to do anything of the kind, he points out that if “you’ve agreed then it’s not / against your will.”
These are very messed-up people who constantly cross red lines in their behaviour. They are clearly abusive to each other but whether part of that abuse should be defined as rape will generate a few heated arguments among the audience.
It is rarely easy to tell on a father, on a partner or someone you still care for. It is a big step to accuse anyone of rape because of all that can then follow. According to the 2018 Crime Survey, 80% of victims did not report their experience to police.
The #MeToo movement has at least given some of the silenced victims a little more confidence in talking about a trauma that can last a lifetime.
Vicky Jones’s unsettling play sounds the note of caution about our response to these voices and so will not be loved by campaigners for justice but it is a fine play well worth seeing.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna