In some good news, this week the Barn Theatre in Cirencester has reopened its doors to (socially distanced) audiences for the world premiere of Cat Goscovitch’s new play, A Russian Doll, a co-production with London’s Arcola Theatre.
Based on a true story, this gripping one-woman show, available to view both in person and online, stars Rachel Redford as Masha, a young student in St Petersburg. The English student, who loves Wuthering Heights and wants to be a teacher, takes a part-time job working at an ‘internet research agency’ run by the notorious Jay-Z (not that one). As part of her role Masha gathers data about British people and uses it to spread disinformation about the European Union in a bid to influence the EU referendum.
Nicolas Kent’s strong direction results in a production where the story and the quality of Redford’s acting is allowed to take centre stage, which makes the revelations all the more disturbing. During the 70-minute play Masha talks about the techniques she uses – from Facebook quizzes to tracking internet – to target influencers, find out all about them (even their menstrual cycle) and manipulate their thinking to ensure they spread lies and misinformation. She also speaks about her boss, who has links to Vladimir Putin, the ‘troll war room’ where she works, and speaks about her own father, with revelations coming to light. The play is incredibly compelling, and Masha lures the audience in with her revelations, it’s all too easy to forget this is based on a true story.
Liz Da Costa’s set for a cold, impersonal office features a desk, chair and computers as we see Masha go to work and eavesdrop on her conversations with influencers. Behind the set Alex Tabrizi’s video design broadcasts images of St Petersburg to help move the story along.
Redford compels throughout, at times barely pausing for breath as Masha excitedly tells her story. Although some appear a little too far-fetched, Redford draws the audience in with Masha’s stories, weaving them under a spell just as Masha does with her unwitting victims. Masha is complex, clearly proud at times of her work, yet also remorseful for her actions, but even when she’s setting the bait and luring in her targets, she’s still likeable, with a dry humour. Redford’s accent is believable and never once wavers – credit must go to voice and accent coach Katherine Heath for helping with this.
Data – or rather the misuse of data – is a hot topic right now and this disturbing play is certainly timely and relevant. In a world of ‘fake news’, A Russian Doll is a chilling and sharp political play, and it will certainly make you think twice the next time you post online.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
A Russian doll plays at barntheatre.org.uk until 12 June. Performance dates for the run at the Arcola Theatre to be announced in due course.
Photo Credit: Eve Dunlop
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