Maybe it’s a state-of-the-nation piece, or maybe it’s a pair of petty idiots wasting our time. In this marvellously scrappy show – a seesaw of sliding power – two stubborn clowns desperately search for the right nerve to snap in the other.
Lack of communication reigns as Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas talk across, over and under each other. Nasi stands at the top of a ladder. Bert pleads with him to come down. Nasi refuses. “This,” he says, waving his hand to imply the distance between them, “works for me.” Sanity unspools as each refuses to compromise in a series of physical and verbal games of tug-of-war; the rope being their bodies, their accents, their feelings for the other. They retreat and attack like mosquitoes avoiding a swatting hand.
They are ugly in their impudence, though just as entertaining to us as they are frustrating to each other. We’re quickly dragged into the conflict as they make us pick sides. Do we condone their cruelty? Can we make them stop? When will we stop playing along? Tensions escalate until Bert is threatening to knock over an audience member on his bike on their walk home.
One is the finale of Bert and Nasi’s political two-hander trilogy, following Eurohouse, which dealt with the scuffles between EU member states, and Palmyra, which grappled with the destruction of the ancient Syrian city through broken crockery. Unlike the previous two shows, One is not centred on a particular conflict, but you only have to look to Westminster or the White House to see the same games being played.
The shape of the show is as aesthetically scruffy as their battles are emotionally petty. But in their exhaustion, there are glimmers of something past the violence and competition. We are given multiple options for the closing scene and, tonight, we choose the happy ending. As Bert and Nasi find space for compromise with action rather than language, there is a gesture towards tenderness. In the way they dance and hold each other, there is hope for something kinder. If only our country could enjoy such an elegant outcome.
At Battersea Arts Centre, London, until 19 October. Triple bill with Eurohouse and Palmyra on 19 October.