No one believes more so that the millennial generation are lost in a world that asks too much of them, than the millennial generation themselves. The current situation presented to young adults coming out of University or looking for a leg up in their working lives is bleak. An Act of Kindness approaches these concerns for what they are and poses to us a feeling which is both familiar and displeasing.
Taking place in the mesmerising Vault Festival, An Act of Kindness was in good company and the Edinburgh Fringe vibe that was emitted from the transformed cave they performed in was very much appropriate. Even their venue was not sure of its purpose and this could only help with their message of ‘being okay with not knowing.’ Rascal Theatre’s play had a fresh feel to it, though this perceived message is not one that is necessarily new. Einstein famously said that he “…speaks to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the University.” An attitude or approach I’m sure many of us would like to think we take, but in reality we still hold on to our inclinations to ignore one and another – an attribute Rascal Theatre want us to diminish and discharge.
The company did well in achieving a sense of being in limbo (both physically in their location and literally in their 23-year-old lives), as the entire performance takes place at a bus stop. While framing the piece in an everyday location, it quickly became apparent to the audience that we are here to observe the two people and their approaches to life – not the coincidental meetings that occur. Both performers, Robert Hayes (Martin) and Helena Westerman (Leila), were excellent and completely committed to their characters. They had clearly given all of themselves to their roles and this was made clear by the end, with both actors in tears from the different situations they had found themselves in, as a result of the fleeting relationship formed at this bus stop.
Despite this small void in time and space they had created, both characters always returned to their side of the stage when away from the bus stop and never ventured into each other’s. This was a particularly effective choice and clarified the distance between them, even though both were showing the same fears for their future at the bus stop.
Westerman’s writing is particularly worthy of mention, as the audience felt completely immersed in the world they had created and the characters had been crafted in a way that made you feel like you already knew them. Even Leila’s t-shirt depicted an image of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, an image of female empowerment which was prevalent in Leila’s character and nicely summarised her justified beliefs.
Where this piece struggled, however, was in its attempts at giving the audience a ‘message’ or overall feeling to leave the performance with. The title, An Act of Kindness, does not really reflects what the play was trying to achieve. Indeed, at the end of the piece, I was given a card by one of the actors which reads, “Ask someone how their day is! *pass me on once the deed is done.” Whilst I believe this is a great idea and sentiment, it felt
distant from what the performance was saying. Somewhere along the line, the performance became more of a millennial rant about social pressure and hardship in a generation than about trying to help each other or entice us to perform these acts of kindness. The audience did not leave the show with a new found desire to act kindly towards others, but instead left confused and disgruntled by the play’s meaning. The idea of not knowing where your place in society was communicated far stronger but, as previously mentioned, this is not a new idea and we were not offered a solution to this feeling – rather we were given a relationship that enhanced it. Perhaps the desire to showcase these generational feelings marred the plays potential to ask its audience to go about their lives with a new found sense of kindness – a notion which got lost in this performance.
Review by James Evans
Caroline Simonsen and Helena Westerman, Co-Artistic Directors of Rascal Theatre say; ‘we are so excited to be bringing this play back to the city that inspired it. It is an honour to be part of the fifth, and ever-growing, VAULT Festival and we look forward to sharing An Act of Kindness’s message of empathy and kindness with other audiences around the UK’.
A man and a woman meet at a bus stop. As their routines dictate, they keep bumping into each other. Over 6 months a friendship blossoms. Note: this is not a love story.
Leila, a manic pixie dream girl, unhappily waitressing at a greasy spoon, and Martin, a successful graduate with the world on his shoulders, couldn’t be more different. However, as both grapple with personal uncertainties, feeling lost and alone in the chaos of London, they begin to lean on one another.
An Act Of Kindness
Written by Helena Westerman
VAULT Festival | 7-11 February 2018