“It’s just beige” explains London, one of three women existing in the aftermath of a breakup in Phoebe Noble’s new play, One Half of Two. It’s a piece about lost love that starts perhaps as one would imagine—fury, denial, insecurity (all of which are played well)—but gives way to something more nuanced: the breakups so amicable and mundane they’re almost worse to talk about, the taboo pain of being the other woman, the successive little heartbreaks of going to the supermarket and buying for one, not two.
A specific female focus is a welcome one, allowing Noble to analyse the unique aftershocks experienced exclusively by women. Glasgow (Alex Hill) has to grapple with the oft-unexplored victimhood of being the unknowing mistress, perceived by society to be a homewrecker and not simply another woman scorned, as well as a ticking biological clock. Being told you have five, maybe ten years to have a baby, already made harder through fertility issues you have no control over, just after the end of a relationship where this potentially could have been possible, is a hard truth to hear, but eventually becomes another catalyst in a journey to independence and self-love.
The array of emotions one goes through post-breakup—anger and humiliation in Glasgow, bargaining and shock in Belfast (Holly McConville), uneventful sadness in London (Phoebe Noble in cast one, Emily Rayner in cast two)—are explored individually, but coalesce at certain moments to highlight the shared experiences, the universality of break-ups. The cast give stellar performances, tearing through successive monologues with radically different requirements with the utmost passion and skill, holding on to their individual characters and yet moving together seamlessly in a shockingly well-paced and well-balanced 50 minutes.
“An impressive showcase of writing, performance and direction, ‘One Half of Two’ is an unmissable debut from Phoebe Noble.”
Not content with just being both an ode to an ex and yourself, One Half of Two is also a love letter to the city, framing life in Belfast, Glasgow and particularly London as a sort of urban therapy; trial by tube station, if you will. The ‘there’s always another bus’ analogy had the potential to be a little on the nose, but Noble subverts this not by positioning her classic red London double-decker as a metaphor for a new relationship, but as an emotional vehicle as well as a physical one, taking her wherever it is she needs to go.
The production is technically minimal, but this is for the best. The sparse stage not only echoes the void of post-relationship loneliness, but allows the actors to emotionally fill the space, with a few simple camera angle changes adding a dose of dynamism to events. The occasional musical cue and lighting effect are nice touches, but this is ultimately an actors’ affair, with the cast selling the jumps in time and location just as effectively as tech does.
“I am an incredible woman” repeats London at the play’s conclusion, a mantra that’s as much of a reminder as it is a statement of self-love. One Half of Two doesn’t denounce romantic relationships, or downplay their importance, but finds beauty in the strength of both other relationships, particularly between female friends, and the relationship with the self. Learning to enjoy the quiet, the freedom of independent choice, the extra wine left in the bottle, can be surprisingly hard, but possible. An impressive showcase of writing, performance and direction, One Half of Two is an unmissable debut from Phoebe Noble.
One Half of Two is available on demand until Saturday 8 May.
Words by James Nash
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Image: © Jack Etheridge