Saturday 5 July 2014

Theatre review: The Kindness of Strangers

A different kind of immersive theatre at - or rather near - Southwark Playhouse, where we're immersed not just in the situation but in the neighbourhood as well. curious directive's The Kindness of Strangers takes place in the back of an ambulance that sets off from behind the theatre and drives around the local area, simulating the night shift of a King's College Hospital ambulance crew. There's only space for five audience members per performance, all wearing headphones through which we hear the unseen driver Sylvia, who's on her last-ever shift. In the back with us is Lisa (Emily Lloyd-Saini,) who's on her first. As they wait to be called out, the two women discuss their very different points of view on the NHS - Lisa has an optimism that they can still do good, but while Sylvia seems to be cynical about the "dying beast" they work in, she's leaving to take a job leading the ambulance trust, in the belief that she can improve things.

When an emergency is called in, the audience get called upon as well - the ambulance stops to reveal someone having difficulty with a simple task, like a man with a broken arm having to wrap a present, which an audience member is invited to help them with. I had to brush the hair of a drunk Greek bride on her hen night, while another audience member wiped her smudged makeup off. Every so often a cyclist (Russell Woodhead) turns up to tell part of a story that will tie in to this night shift by the end.

The Kindness of Strangers is a concerned but ultimately warm-hearted look at the NHS and the people who make genuine sacrifices to help keep it going. Unfortunately I'll probably most remember it for getting motion sickness, something I haven't had a problem with for decades: But travelling backwards in a windowless vehicle, with projections on the back doors showing a different journey than we we actually taking, all while I was still tired from The Crucible the night before, proved a bit of a perfect storm and although a powerful piece, I was glad to get out at the end.

The Kindness of Strangers by Jack Lowe and Russell Woodhead is booking until the 16th of July at The Ambulance (outside Southwark Playhouse.)

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes straight through.

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