In An Act Of Kindness, Martin and Leila meet sporadically over the course of several months at a bus stop. Despite their differing backgrounds, they build a rapport, and support each other as they confront the stresses and challenges of finding their way in the world. It is an unapologetically feel-good look at relationships and how simple kindnesses have positive outcomes.
I enjoyed the way they set up the friendship; Leila, played by writer Helena Westerman, sparks their interaction by launching into conversation the first time they meet at the bus stop. Robert Hayes does a lovely job of capturing Martin’s impatience as he re-inserts his earphones after answering each of Leila’s questions, only to have to politely remove them again for the next.
They are very different people. Leila is the unconventional dreamer, struggling to find her place in the world; whereas Martin is confident as a successful young businessman, but less secure in his role as eldest brother in a family whose mother is undergoing treatment for cancer.
Westerman and Hayes have created very genuine characters. They manage to be both interesting and ordinary, awkward and endearing, as they build a relationship that ebbs and flows over the course of their meetings. Each time they meet, over the course of laughs, rows and misunderstandings, they get to know each other better, and begin to confide in one another. The rapport that develops gives the play much of its charm and warmth.
The flyer highlights the production’s support of a charity that works to prevent male suicide, and it sympathetically draws out issues that affect Martin, and the pressure he feels under to perform a particular role within his family.
However, I do wonder what Leila gets out of the friendship at times. For example, on an occasion when Martin has had too much to drink, he rabbits on – offering advice, demanding to know what’s wrong with Leila until she opens up. The next time they meet he recalls nothing of their conversation, upsetting her with his insensitivity as he rides roughshod over her feelings about things he should remember. And Martin’s act of kindness, when it comes, is a dramatic statement, instead of the constant support and interest that Leila has shown. Rather gender-stereotypical, perhaps?
There are some mis-steps in the play that veer close to melodrama – but perhaps I should be kinder myself, and put the melodrama down to the characters’ relative youth. Overall An Act Of Kindness is witty, funny and charming, and a welcome reminder of how taking the time to make a connection with someone can have a beneficial impact on our lives.