The Kindness of Strangers
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Curious Directive’s ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ is a drama about the future of the NHS, in which a young, self-doubting, but implacably optimistic paramedic on her first ambulance shift comes into conflict with her driver, a cynical older woman on the cusp of retirement who’s convinced that the NHS’s best days are behind it.
So far, so standard, but ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ has the mother of all USPs. It’s performed in an actual moving ambulance, to a tiny audience of you and just three others. Arguably the devised play would work in a more conventional space, but certainly the setting is much more than simple novelty, fostering an intense sense of intimacy with young Lisa (Emily Lloyd-Saini) and a real feel of her long overnight shift passing (despite the show’s brevity).
It’s a pretty didactic piece, insofar as there’s no sense that either Lisa’s hopefulness or the despair of her colleague Sylvia, who we only hear from the front seat (a pre-recorded Sarah Woodward), is intrinsically right or wrong, they’re just illustrative of different beliefs within the NHS. What is conveyed powerfully is that on the front lines, paramedics have to be decent, caring people who have to believe in what they’re doing enough to work incredibly hard jobs, and it is deeply sad that behind-the-scenes politicking may endanger that.
There’s a contrivance to the way the story ends, though Jack Lowe’s production is wistful enough for it not to feel clanging. And various interludes in which we’re let out of the ambulance to do a minor, caring task for a ‘sick’ performer (eg wrap a present for somebody with a broken arm) in lieu of seeing Lisa and Sylvia attend to an actual casualty feels like a nice idea that doesn’t actually work that well. But all in all it’s a beautiful, delicate piece of theatre that reminds us of both the preciousness of life, and the preciousness of those who protect life.