Writer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller
Directors: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller and Michael Zwiauer
Candie Woodley is in a crisis. Her star director Pierce Mitchell’s unique vision for A Streetcar Named Desire is suddenly got to be pulled due to an internal scandal—and she’s got to break it to the director personally. Can she and assistant Lea Celeste find a solution—and is there more to this tale of what goes on behind the curtain than we seem?
The Kindness of Strangers is an intensely inside-joke laden critique of the contemporary theatre industry, taking into account identity politics, managerial hierarchies and interpersonal romantic relationships. It is a generally strong script, Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller’s dialogue holding you throughout the production, but towards the end leans too much into its Streetcar references. Some of these illuminate the characters: some do not. However the relationships between Candie, Pierce and Lea remain convincing, from the understated romance between Pierce and Lea to the battle for power between Lea and Candie.
These also sell the second half of the piece, when a genuinely surprising twist reveals another layer of nuance to the production, helping Brimmer-Beller sell his central question of what theatre’s priorities are and should be, and where the lines between different interpretations and current politics intersect. The play does feel a little underpowered in this second section, as the show quickly runs to a stop with only the twist to keep you engaged: otherwise it feels like a gently ironic re-tread of the first half, with that as the primary joke which quickly stops feeling funny. Nevertheless its Fringey-ness makes it a bite-sized acid-drop of theatrical satire.
Even more standout are the performances. Esmée Cook imbues Candie with fabulous comic timing and a sense of frazzled practicality and dippy self-assurance, marking herself out as a talent to watch. Brimmer-Beller brings both relaxed confidence and keen intelligence to Pierce, and convinces us as well as Candie of his production’s merits. Andrea Gatchalian is best in the semi-emotional moments between Lea and Pierce, and her about-face later in the show is a bit too much of a shock: she is much more nuanced in her relationship with Candie than with Pierce.
Kindness of Strangers is a timely and well-executed piece of theatrical satire, coming at a time when identity politics and Tennessee Williams’ play are at the forefront of discussion. With some more depth added to its second half and a touch more light and shade across the performances, it could easily reach its full potential as a gripping golden nugget.
Runs until 4 February 2023