RUSSIAN DOLLS, King's Head Theatre - Review

In recent years there have been a number of plays dealing with Millenials and the aged taking time to know each other, with Gina Moxley's Tea Set and Clara Brennan's Spine immediately springing to mind. However, in both those cases, the plays were one-woman shows, told from the point of view of the younger woman. In Kate Lock's play Russian Dolls, the meeting of the different generations is played out for us to see, and the age difference between them is the least of their problems...

Set for the most part of within the home of Hilda (Stephanie Fayerman), a retired dinner lady and former foster carer, her restricted domestic existence is exacerbated by the fact that she has recently become blind as well. Her isolation is disrupted by the arrival of 17-year-old Camelia (Mollie Lambert), a girl who has just been released from care. However things for Camelia are tough as her mother is a habitual drug user, "on the game" and preoccupied only with her boyfriend, leaving social service to designate her neglectful of her children. Urged also by social services not to spend time with her mother, Camelia hangs around gangs with her older brother. But the gang's initiation rituals are at best illegal and at worst, dehumanising, leaving her with nowhere else to go to...

Hilda may be 'blind', but her extensive years of experience has finely tuned her intuition and she can see Camelia's predicament and true nature well enough. In many ways they are mirror images of each other – both women supposedly tough exteriors, but possessing a tenderness that try to keep hidden from view.

There is nothing sentimental about the play as the grit of the characters and their respective circumstances are told in explicit detail. There is a speech where Hilda admits that while she hasn't exactly embraced 'feminism' (by her own preconceptions), the root of Camelia's problems (and the key to her possible emancipation) is her sense of self-worth, the lack of reinforced by her family  and social circle. If Hilda can help rebuild it, reinforce it with understanding, patience and compassion, as well as 'tough love', Camelia might stand a chance of not turning out in the end as a mini-version of her mother, another 'Russian doll'. It's a big if...

All analysis aside, Russian Dolls is a play that naturally elicits a strong visceral response from its audience, as the palpable fears of both women become reality and fate of both generations becomes less of a disparate matter. It will keep you gripped from beginning to end.

© Michael Davis 2016

Russian Dolls runs at the King's Head Theatre until 23rd April 2016.

Photo credit: Andreas Grieger.
@KingsHeadThtr, #RussianDolls


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