An Act of Kindness – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Writer: Helena Westerman

Director: Caroline Simonsen

Reviewer: James Garrington

“I like talking to people. I find it makes them smile. And no one ever smiles at each other in London”.

Leila is a waitress in a cafe. Every day she catches the bus at the same stop. Then one day she meets a man there – Martin, a successful young professional. She talks to him, immune to his attempts to ignore her.

At this point, it feels rather as though An Act of Kindness may be a classic boy-meets-girl romantic comedy, but it turns out to be so much more than that. Over a series of encounters at the bus stop, they start to learn more about each other – their hopes, their disappointments, and why Martin is only there every third Friday.

Leila is played by Helena Westerman, who also wrote the piece. She is feisty and outgoing, contrasting with Martin’s dour Northern character, until it becomes clear that both are actually playing a rôle that neither of them is particularly comfortable with, giving both actors an opportunity to demonstrate a switch in emotions.

The play is an absorbing exploration of gender expectations and pressure, of developing friendships and perspectives on life. Martin feels he has to be strong, conceal his emotions and “be a man”. Leila feels that the expectation of women is that they are either strong and independent or a damsel-in-distress – why can’t she be something in between?

Often a play which was designed to fit into the short slot at the Fringe gets extended when it is taken elsewhere, but Westerman has resisted the temptation to do that here. The result is something that feels shorter than you might have expected, but benefits enormously from the tautness required of a Fringe piece, without the padding which is often apparent and which is frequently not of the same quality as the original material.

At times humorous, at times poignant, An Act of Kindness will resonate with anyone who lives in a big city, where insularity is usually the norm and there are often clear stereotypical expectations based on people’s gender and appearance. Maybe it needs a stranger’s view to clarify our own perspective. Maybe if we open ourselves to others, take the time to understand them and show empathy towards them, then good things can start to happen.

Runs until 1st March 2018 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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