Russian Dolls, King’s Head Theatre, review: ‘Script does not shy away from horrors of gang life’

Stephanie Fayerman and Mollie Lambert in Russian Dolls at the King's Head Theatre. Picture: Andreas

Stephanie Fayerman and Mollie Lambert in Russian Dolls at the King's Head Theatre. Picture: Andreas Grieger - Credit: Archant

The media is rarely kind to today’s youth. Branded lazy and scroungers, even their successes are usually followed by a variation on the phrase: “Well, it was harder in my day”.

But the grim reality for many desperate, impoverished youngsters who fall through society’s safety net is laid shockingly bare in this powerful and achingly tragic 80-minute play from award-winning writer Kate Lock. There are just two characters, but they are all we need: the elderly battleaxe Hilda (Stephanie Fayerman), who is blind but can still bake one hell of a cake; and 17-year-old Camelia (Mollie Lambert), inescapably tangled up in gang life.

Their worlds collide when the young girl robs Hilda while pretending to be her replacement carer. But Hilda’s salty kindness and fierce independence draws the spiky Camelia back, and, somehow, the pair strike up an affinity.

The staging is basic, as one might expect from a poky pub theatre space, but Fayerman and Lambert’s powerful performances as two lonely, lost souls are so moving that you don’t watch anything but them. But the true strength of this play hangs on Lock’s perceptive, nuanced script.

“What are you doing?” asks a bewildered Camelia, as Hilda pulls her into a hug, and it dawns on us that no-one has ever shown her any compassion until this moment. We want to leave our seats and wrap our arms around her too.

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The writing does not shy away from the real horrors a young girl with absent parents could face if pulled into a murky, underground world, and I could feel my face contort with outraged disgust as Camelia tells Hilda what she has been forced to do. She is one in a long line of Russian dolls on Hilda’s windowsill, unable to change her fate.

Russian Dolls is 80 minutes of flawless, gut-punching theatre. Expect a swift transfer.

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Rating: 5/5 stars.

Russian Dolls is at the King’s Head Theatre in Upper Street.

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