One Under, devised by Parting Shot and based around the interviews and testimonies of tube passengers, is an excellent work that vividly brings to life the experiences we all go through on London’s transport arteries along with some that we would hope to avoid (those of you aware of the meaning of the title probably won’t need to be told what the ‘twist’ at the end is). Played out through the internal monologues of four travellers we get an insight into their personal worlds, their backstories and their insecurities.
The play begins in a relatively light-hearted manner and the characters are little more than pastiches of characters that we see on every journey. The young woman in a rush who has to do her make up on the tube (Katie Carpenter), the bohemian feminist with her nose in a book (Rosy Banham), the young mum (Phoebe Eclair-Powell) and Matt Gavan’s old man in the overcoat (who at least displays a degree of self-awareness to acknowledge that he looks like a paedophile). Indeed there’s a great deal of humour to be found in the muttered resentment between the passengers, particularly the other women’s indignation at the attractive blonde doing her makeup. Indeed the first act is dominated by feelings of resentment on the carriage, perfectly tapping into that pervasive aura of negativity on the Underground.
Yet it is as these individuals move away from being mere caricatures and into being characters. Their backstories are told through a number of monologues that offer an eye-opening look at their insecurities, in particular Eclair-Powell’s brutal indictment of herself which was perhaps the stand out moment of the show. As the characters spend longer and longer in each other’s company the external resentment of the first act transforms into a form of internal laceration, with their disdain turning inwards in the case of many of the characters. For Matt Gavan things are more sombre as his old man reminisces about his past and his speech about his wife is truly moving.
Only at its conclusion does this play really disappoint. Having taken us through an emotional torrent the conclusion seems a little bit flat. The magnificent interplay between the four leads that we had seen in the first act is replaced by some odd sort of awkward bond which seems to be entirely at odds with what has gone before. The event designed to bring them together doesn’t really feel like it should and as such the audience are left wondering quite when these passengers switched from passive-aggressive to united.
But credit belongs heavily to four leads who really inhabit their parts. All four seem to know what makes the character tick and find that place beneath the stereotype that makes them each person feel real. For what is as much a play about these four individuals as it is our experiences on the Underground this is a great asset and makes for an eminently watchable play.