How safe is your personal data? According to Masha (Rachel Redford), the central character in Cat Goscovitch’s A Russian Doll, you might be unpleasantly surprised by the answer. We all know about the dangers of sharing too much online, but this dark one-woman show reveals how even the most seemingly innocuous information can become a weapon if it falls into the wrong hands.
Masha is a student of English Literature, living with her mother in a tiny apartment and working part-time at an internet research agency. But when she catches the eye of the boss, the unintelligent but well-connected Jay-Z, she’s drawn against her will into Russia’s efforts to derail the UK referendum. And it turns out Masha has a talent for trolling – but will her conscience or her longing for a better life win out?
Rachel Redford is extraordinary, instantly capturing the audience’s attention and easily holding it throughout the 70-minute show. Though we learn more than we might like about the methods used, the real story here is not so much about Russian trolls or their impact on the Brexit vote – something most people know about by now, even if some aren’t quite ready to acknowledge it. The story is Masha, and the emotional rollercoaster she finds herself on as the thrill of exploiting oblivious Brits battles with the knowledge that what she’s doing goes against all her moral and political beliefs. This turmoil comes through in Redford’s performance, as she transforms before our eyes from innocent student to merciless manipulator, justifying it all with the (not unreasonable) argument that her role only exists because we expose our data so willingly… and ultimately leaving us to question whether anything she’s just told us is actually true.
While there’s no faulting Redford’s delivery, Goscovitch’s script at times feels incomplete. The timeline of events moves very quickly, and there are aspects of the plot which are skimmed over as a result, leading us to wonder why they were introduced in the first place. What is clearly portrayed, however, is the ruthlessness of the people at the top of the food chain, who gain the most benefit from data exploitation but run the least personal risk. And the play is certainly a wakeup call for anyone who spends time online – which, let’s be honest, is most of us.
Dark and atmospheric in both tone and appearance, A Russian Doll is a chilling reminder of the dangers of the internet. A functional set from Liz da Costa and efficient direction by Nicolas Kent place Rachel Redford quite literally at centre stage, and her outstanding performance is what really lifts the production to a higher level. And if Masha’s story makes you think seriously about deleting your Facebook account – well, maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing.
A Russian Doll is at the Barn Theatre until 12th June, followed by a run at the Arcola Theatre’s new outdoor space Arcola Outside in East London.