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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Hundreds and Thousands
Soho Theatre Summer 2011

Lou Ransden's new play is billed as a black comedy, but there is far more blackness than humour to its chilling study in the seductive power of madness. 

It's a bit overlong, and has trouble sustaining its hold on the audience, but when it works it will thoroughly scare you as what first seems extremely unlikely becomes all too believable. 

A woman whose biological alarm clock is ringing wildly is desperate for marriage and children, and leaps at the first man to offer them. Now, here is where I have to be vague – let's just say that he proves to be something very close to criminally insane. 

The question of the play is whether she will run like hell, as her first impulse demands, or whether her need for him is so overpowering that she will begin a process of rationalising and compromising until she is totally caught up in the madness herself.

It is very much to the credit of Lisa Spirling and her cast that what might play like a bad low-budget horror movie does draw us into its reality, so that the woman's journey into insanity is for the most part as believable as it is frightening. 

At about 100 minutes, the play lingers on a little too long, and the playwright has to keep upping the ante of horror just to keep the momentum, constantly running the real risk of losing the audience, and a trim of fifteen or twenty minutes could only help. 

Much of the burden of creating and sustaining the suspension of disbelief lies on the shoulders of actress Sukie Smith, who convinces us immediately of the woman's palpable yearning, so that we can accept that it will overpower her rationality as she takes each small step toward madness – though the actress does have some trouble sustaining the character's reality as the playwright makes her surpass even her lover in enthusiastic commitment to horror.

Stuart Laing plays the lover with the preternatural calm of the madman comfortably at home in his own reality, Nadine Lewington contributes significantly to the success of the play by making a particularly difficult character (about whom I really can't say much more) believable and sympathetic, and Robert Wilfort faces the challenge of making the one 'normal' character come to seem the most out of place.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Hundreds and Thousands - Soho 2011