Theatre Royal Plymouth
Reviewed – 24th October 2019
“being brave enough to leave parts of the story untold pushes this drama into a different league”
A young man jumps in front of a train. An act witnessed by the driver, Cyrus (Stanley J. Browne) who sits and waits to be interviewed by the police. His colleague reassures him that this will all be textbook. A few questions, make a statement. Cyrus will be offered a few weeks off work to recover. His colleague urges him to keep his testimony short and to the point; no ifs or buts. No-one wants an inquest.
But Cyrus has doubts – did the boy wave at him, just before he jumped? Did he mean to jump at all? We fast forward a few months, meeting Nella, the boy’s mother. She has befriended a local man, eager to help out doing jobs around the house, digging the garden. Cyrus has found the boy’s family, and makes himself indispensable. He is convinced that Sonny (Reece Pantry) has left clues behind. An unfinished drink, a launderette ticket. The fall is just the start of the story.
Cyrus begins an obsessive journey into Sonny’s last days – he urges Nella to remember any detail that may help, while Sonny’s sister Zoe (Evlyne Oyedokun) becomes aware of the stranger who has worked his way into her mother’s life. As she learns more about him, it becomes clear that Cyrus’ motivation runs far deeper than the cleansing of guilt.
Like every good thriller, One Under doesn’t leave us with every plot point examined; some threads are left exposed. What this production does especially well is to focus on the complex web of relationships that tell the story.
Diving in and out of the past, we are piecing together the narrative, a chain of events, just like Cyrus. We are led through a maze, first this possibility, then the next. But here, every false turn leads us closer to the truth. It isn’t until the final scene, and the last card is revealed, that we uncover a truth far more unsettling than previously imagined.
One Under, written by Winsome Pinnock, tackles some weighty subjects: suicide, trauma, the impact of grief. But cleverly, Pinnock frames the play’s ideas about these subjects against a handful of characters. To counter the dark nature of what is being discussed, Pinnock applies a lightness of touch – a spare set, just a few props and a cast of five. It stops us from feeling overwhelmed – it also gives the moments of heightened drama a real potency. Director Amit Sharma keeps a tight hold of the story; moving us quickly from past and present, home and work; perception and reality.
During the play’s 90 minutes, we become acquainted with the characters. A mother’s grief – so clearly visible that she clings to the kindness of strangers; a man haunted by an accident, turning his life upside down in the pursuit of answers. The cast work together beautifully, with Clare Louise English as Christine, and Shenagh Govan as Nella, in particular grounding the play with an emotional realism.
By using the thriller genre, One Under moves away from the ordinary; a sense of the domestic shifts dramatically into tension and fear. The key change is palpable, as the energy moves, and we find ourselves wrong-footed yet again.
One Under is a keenly enjoyable experience – and being brave enough to leave parts of the story untold pushes this drama into a different league. Complex and darkly satisfying, One Under proves that when drama moves beyond formula, anything can happen.
Reviewed by Helen Tope
Photography by Patrick Baldwin
Theatre Royal Plymouth until 26th Octobers