HUNDREDS AND THOUSANDS
by Lou Ramsden.
Soho Theatre Upstairs 21 Dean Street W11D 3NE To 16 July 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm except 1 July 9.30pm Mat 16 July 3pm.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0100.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 June.
Grippingly fearful reality-fantasy.
In South Africa’s apartheid days one Black citizen said some of the worst behaviour came from White English settlers. Arriving full of liberal shock, within six months many were outdoing the Afrikaners. But, before seeming too complacent, I recall Pip Simmons’ An Die Musik which made audiences complicit with its smiling Nazis, despite seeing how they treated the Jewish characters.
It’s the ultimate self-protection that makes 1984’s Winston Smith, faced with attacking rats, scream “Do it to Julia”. And it’s what Louise Ramsden (no relation) shows in her fable, at the suitably claustrophobic, low-ceilinged Soho Upstairs.
Not since the edible dessert decorations of the title were murderously employed in Agatha Christie have they had such a sinister flavour. Lorna moves in with ice-cream seller Allan, whose barbed dismissals of her antique-shop owning brother Jonathan are the first signs of his bullying temperament.
To Lorna he’s all smiles, with potentially suffocating protectiveness. Early on, she shifts from trying to pretend all’s pleasant to shock at seeing how he treats the mentally vulnerable young woman he claims was a foundling baby. Then she starts accepting the situation as Allan adopts less provocative language.
Lorna’s brother can be as insistent as Allan, though without the sweet smiles her lover uses on her, which vanish when he turns on his prisoner, enforcing her slavery by scare-stories of monsters waiting in the woods to attack if she steps outside.
From trying to overcome Tiggy’s fears, and educate her, Lorna shifts to Allan’s side, eventually encouraging him to greater cruelty against his victim. For no character wears a white suit here, and Allan is the nervous Lorna’s chance to achieve a family life.
Then his stories about having to control Tiggy begin to seem possibly true, when her manner changes with the growing confidence Lorna had provided.
Each character is vulnerable, and the result – despite a deliberately ambiguous final image – is that power of personality determines events. Lisa Spirling’s finely-controlled production makes the mix of everyday and gothic as close to credible as can be as four strong performances take the audience through Ramsden’s fearful labyrinth.
Allan: Stuart Laing.
Tiggy: Nadine Lewington.
Lorna: Sukie Smith.
Jonathan: Robert Wilfort.
Director: Lisa Spirling.
Designer: Polly Sullivan.
Lighting: Tim Mascall.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Voice coach: Marianne Samuels.
Fight director: Richard Hay.
Assistant director: Tinuke Craig.