Review: Russian Dolls, King’s Head Theatre

 The winning  entry for the 2015 Adrian Pagan Award, Kate Lock’s Russian Dolls is a powerful and heartwarming story of two very different characters and how their worlds collide together unexpectedly. 

Russian Dolls at King's Head Theatre, Stephanie Fayerman and Mollie Lambert_1 © Andreas Grieger.jpg
Stephanie Fayerman and Mollie Lambert in Russian Dolls. Photograph by Andreas Grieger.

Kate Lock’s fascinating and fierce play Russian Dolls has plenty to say about the state of Britain and why the two most vulnerable groups (the elderly and the young) are suffering the most for it.

Hilda is 70 years old, blind and lives by herself. Meanwhile Camelia is a teenage tearaway who is looking for her next mark. What neither of them expects is a a strong bond between them both – with more in common than they first realised.

Kate Lock’s play and Hamish McDougall’s production is very perceptive about the break down in the help available to those who are most vulnerable and how those affected are then stuck in a vicious circle that shows no sign of breaking. Camelia (Mollie Lambert) has lived in care, spent time in a Young Offenders unit – yet when the audience first meets her she wants to head back there to be safe – hence why she robs Hilda (Stephanie Fayerman). In contrast, Hilda is angry at losing her eyesight, which means losing her independence and sense of freedom.

This wonderful sense of contrast between the two characters is wonderfully brought to life by Stephanie Fayerman and Mollie Lambert. Fayerman as Hilda is a strong willed and practical character who is determined to do right by Camelia – even if at times she can come across as slightly insensitive. Meanwhile Lambert is certainly a force of nature – determined, self-willed, stubborn and aggressive – but still with a hint of vulnerability that balances the aggression out beautifully. Lambert is certainly an actress to watch out for in the future.

As serious as the play is, there are moments of light heartedness and warmth about it that makes the audience warm up to the characters even more – such as the cooking lessons and the moment when Camelia is on the phone doing her best to secure a guide dog for Hilda, that soften the play and make the characters seem more humane despite the differences in their situation.

Yet it does get the audience thinking about what (if any) differences there are between the two. Both have been let down by services that should have been there to protect them and to help them and both are extremely vulnerable in their different ways. It is a play that shows it is the breakdown in communication and the lack of compassion for those worse off than ourselves that is the real problem with society today – not the lack of money.

Hamish MacDougall’s production is sharp and straight to the point, which complements perfectly with Lock’s warmhearted, angry and at times bitter play that comes at the perfect time when funding for social services and help for the elderly is stretched. Well worth a watch.

Russian Dolls plays at the King’s Head Theatre until the 23rd April. For more information and to book tickets visit:

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