Writers: Jack Lowe and Russell Woodhead
Director: Jack Lowe
Reviewer: Carrie Carter
Taking place in the back of a moving ambulance, The Kindness of Strangers, the latest offering from Curious Directive, is an intense and moving play, on the surface about the changing face of the NHS and ambulance service, but on a deeper level about human reaction, connection, and passion. Conceived by director Jack Lowe and co-writer Russell Woodhead, and first performed as part of the 2013 Norfolk and Norwich festival, the piece takes an audience of up to 5 at a time on an hour long journey which is immersive, sensitive, and completely original.
Participants are met by a member of the production team, and lead to an old ambulance, where each person is provided with a set of headphones through which much of the action is heard. To describe in detail the wonders that follow over the next 60 minutes would be to strip the charm and awe of the unexpected from future audience members, but each person in the back of the ambulance is drawn entirely in to the world of the text through what the actors tell them, and a brief moment for each of audience participation. While those two words can strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned immersive theatre fan, The Kindness of Strangers engages it’s audience so tenderly that you’ll hardly balk when an actor reaches out their hand and draws you in to the action. It feels entirely natural.
The cast, all of whom are masters of realism and fully engaging even when trying to guide audience members without breaking character, are lead spectacularly by Emily Lloyd-Saini as Lisa, the young paramedic on her first night shift. As the most constant presence in the ambulance, Lloyd-Saini almost single handedly takes on the task of putting the audience at ease while simultaneously delivering a considered and generous performance. The intimacy of the space combined with the subject matter and performances made for an emotional ride; to witness her reactions at such close quarters is to feel them. Writer Russell Woodhead also appears in a lively performance as cyclist Ben, buoying the audience and furthering the action with his energy and matter of fact sense of foreboding.
The logistical bravery is a real highlight, with the cast barely missing a beat despite the possibility of any number of outside factors affecting the performance. Some of the most striking moments occurred when oblivious passers by would stop to stare, or, more commonly, simply pass by as if it was none of their business. These moments were a harsh reminder that these situations actually happen, and the world continues on. The realisation in such a controlled context was chilling. Jasmine Robinson’s video design is also an outstanding feature, capturing the full spectrum of an overnight shift despite the glorious evening sunshine.
The Kindness of Strangers is the kind of play that is difficult to review, simply because it is so rooted in human reaction and involvement. It makes you think. It makes you feel. It is innovative and exciting, touching and raw, and one of the fastest 5 star decisions I’ve ever made. Just go.
Runs until 16th July