Does a mother love her children unconditionally? Not according to Hilda, the elderly foster carer in this award winning two-hander. From years of experience she knows that caring for a child requires a great deal of responsibility and self-sacrifice, but she also knows that many mothers lack those qualities.
In this play we not only see the effects of bad parenting but the general impact that ‘Broken Britain’ has on the lives on young people. Camellia, a 17-year-old, is struggling to cope with life outside her young offender institution. Life inside has regularity; there are rules which people follow, and there is a sense that people care about her. Outside of the institution she is victim to whichever gang member decides to test or use her- commanding her to steal or perform sexual acts.
It seems like an extreme and desperate existence, but even when Hilda comes close to dragging her out of it, she only descends closer into it, seemingly repeating history and continuing the cycle of damaged love. For all the darkness at the centre of this play, there is much comedy and some really touching moments- perhaps made all the poignant because Hilda and Camellia’s relationship seems destined to fail.
There is a wonderful dynamic between Hilda (Stephanie Fayerman) and Camellia (Mollie Lambert). Their characters are distinctly contrasting but they develop a credible, if unexpected, bond throughout the course of the play. Both actors channel their character’s sense of humour to great bathetic effect, and Fayerman gives a convincing performance as an elderly blind woman.
In terms of endings, it is important in a play that voices the concerns of contemporary society not to give way to resolutions that implausibly hopeful, or indeed to offer any answers. And, to its credit, ‘Russian Dolls’ raises the issues around ‘broken Britain’ without forcing any sort of resolution. Furthermore, it tackles some quite disturbing subject matter in a way that is entertaining but without exploiting the reality of these characters’ lives. This is an award winning play for a reason, and is definitely worth watching.