A strangely bright window display of various ice creams marked the entrance to the grim and grotesque world of Buckle For Dust’s Hundreds and Thousands; a torturous game played out in Soho Theatre’s studio space. This is a play with a message – about the extent to which we allow personal desires and ambitions to get in the way of morality. Unfortunately, it’s a message that seems lost in the thicket of the thrill.
Lou Ramsden’s script traverses the everyday and the poetic, moments of humour and those of heightened tragedy. As the play twists and surprisingly turns there is more than a hint of the world of the grim and grisly fairytale, with its path wending into the darkness.
In this instance 43-year-old Lorna plays the role of naïve girl wandering into the enchanted forest. Moving in to new boyfriend Allan’s farmhouse with the burning desire to start a family, Lorna soon finds out that Allan is hiding a dark secret. Tiggy, a girl kept with bound wrists and ankles – dog collar round her neck – in the cellar. Tiggy is a slave, and Allan’s sister. Ambiguous family torments permeate the air in Allan’s farmhouse and Lorna soon becomes complicit, and happy to be so, in Allan’s crime; her desire for a family of her own, and for Allan, quickly superseding any sense of morals.
The initial, brilliantly written and directed, entrance of Tiggy is the first ‘shock moment’ – the first twist in the road from which the play winds its way into darker territory. The road keeps twisting, and the shocks keep coming until it is Lorna who engineers the final horrific crime enacted on Tiggy.
It is a shift in character that comes uncomfortably quickly, not leaving Lorna any breathing space to develop. The role is one that Sukie Smith plays admirably, but that can’t help seeming remarkably offset from reality; as is also the case with Allan, Tiggy, and the entire situation at the farmhouse. It’s only with the entrance of Lorna’s brother Jonathan, played with a wonderful light heartedness by Robert Wilfort, that the real world of marriage and debt comes crashing into the situation like a bull in a china shop.
Except Jonathan does not send the set-up in the farmhouse crashing to the ground, far from it, the play’s ambiguous ending leaves uncertainty as to Tiggy’s fate and to Jonathan’s role in it. It is the final twist in the fairytale road with which, as the house lights come up, we must find our way back to reality. My journey was helped by the post-show talk that shed light on the thought process behind the play, something I doubt I would otherwise have found my way towards.
As a modern-day grim fairytale designed to shock and torment its audience, Hundreds and Thousands does a terrifyingly good job. But these thrills seem to act like the play’s namesake; they’re a sweet attraction to the play that unfortunately seem to obscure the real content. Still, Hundreds and Thousands is an excellent night of terrifying entertainment.