‘ONE’ review – Man-up-a-ladder drama is offensive try-hard farce

Bert and Nasi’s latest play on polarisation only does well to alienate its audience – ★

Even with a ladder to help them, well-crafted theatre is too far out of reach for creative duo Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutas with their last play in a trilogy, ONE. Nasi is the one perched at the top of it, and refusing to come down – despite pleas from Bert and the audience to do so. What this all means in terms of a plot is unclear in what is a burdensome, lazy and offensive 65-minute production.

“What the f*** are we doing,” asks Nasi, who is the only likeable and relatable character due to his cynicism and lack of interest in the sorry state of affairs. I, too, was asking the same question. The most contemptible aspect of this show is that one never knows the answer.

If it’s about the power dynamics in a friendship, then it’s never truly established how this came to be, or why. If it’s about polarisation – as billed, and highlighted by fellow reviewers – then aside from physical representations in terms of set, the only thing it polarises is the audience.

Trousers down and buttocks on full show, Bert’s character is an insulting individual who’s trying too hard – both to get through to a reserved Nasi, but also to make us laugh and win our affection. He begins as a negotiator, then an interrogator and appeaser. It may well be commenting on the state of political discussion, but any attempt to make a statement is drowned out by poor sound design – namely Bert shouting to the audience over John Lennon’s Imagine, and as such making the dialogue incoherent and ruining a perfectly good song.

Some audience members long for a more active experience at the theatre, and if so, ONE may be the one, but deliberate ambiguity is only artful when used sparingly. To change up character dynamics, or to move from tender moments to spanking (yes, really) eliminates any sense of purpose, to refer back to Nasi’s aforementioned question. To expect an audience to draw – and decide – a conclusion from the farce is not thought-provoking, just incredibly exhausting.

To then try to establish a poetic ending to such nonsense is a flagrant attempt to disregard what came before, as if it doesn’t even matter when the ending is so profound.

Toss in some irritating, repetitive questions and dialogue and ONE‘s laziness and ignorance is painfully – and frustratingly – overt. At the end of an unpleasant evening, there is one question which I can answer. It is worth it? No. Is it worth it? No. Is it worth it? No.

ONE is now playing at the Battersea Arts Centre until 19 October.

Production Images: Richard Davenport/The Other Richard.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ONE for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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