“Don’t you have that furious ache in the middle of you?”
Hundreds and Thousands is a new play by Lou Ramsden which has just now finished its run at the Soho Theatre. Set in the new Upstairs Studio (which we had a first experience of during the run of Charged plays), the play centres on Lorna, whose biological clock is ticking so loudly, she is beginning to lose hope. When she meets Allan at a speed-dating night, she sees a chance to finally secure a husband and family and so she quickly moves into his secluded farmhouse.
Though she’s happy, her brother is much more sceptical and rightly so as it turns out, Allan has a terrible secret locked away in the basement. Most women would run away if they found out that their beloved had a young woman enslaved in their household, kept in chains, but not Lorna. Her desperation to hold onto her man, any man, means that she willingly submits to Allan’s manipulations and buries any misgivings in his explanations of how Tiggy came to be with them and why she is treated this way.
I haven’t had quite so strong a reaction against a play in some time. Ramsden wilfully provokes the audience with some very dark scenes, especially those involving the torture of Tiggy, but the accompanying plot does not have the necessary intelligence in order to justify such an approach. The basic premise of selfish desires overriding common decency is frankly objectionable given the circumstances in which it is placed here, Lorna’s dilemma is just nowhere near plausible. And Ramsden wants to have her cake and eat it by placing such beautiful wordplay in Tiggy’s mouth despite her apparently suffering from learning difficulties: either she is clever enough to escape or she is not.
Performances were fine, though hobbled by uneven and unrealistic characterisations: Stuart Laing’s seductive psychopath pretty much works, but Sukie Smith unsurprisingly struggles to make Lorna’s lightning-quick capitulation believable. Nadine Lewington captures the ambiguous strangeness of the captive and as the bleeding-heart liberal, Robert Wilfort makes the best of a paper-thin stereotype, playing to our the audience’s need to laugh in order to break the tension. A difficult watch with little reward.