366 DAYS OF KINDNESS
The Door, The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 17th December, 2013
In this engaging and entertaining piece of storytelling, writer and performer Bernadette Russell recounts what happened when, as a reaction to the London riots of 2011, she decided to counteract the barrage of bad news and negativity propagated by the media by embarking on the (perhaps foolhardy) plan to perform an act of kindness to a stranger – a different stranger! – every day for a year. These acts of kindness include leaving a pound coin on a seat on the tube, surprising someone with a bunch of flowers, taping a box of cigarettes to a wall with a sign saying “Smoke these” (dubious, that one) and giving someone a copy of 50 Shades (tantamount to cruelty in my view). Some are simple (paying a smile or compliment); others are more elaborate and expensive.
How this plan came about, how it was achieved and received, form the bulk of this personal lecture. Photographs and video clips illustrate key points. Pop music and even a Star Wars theme accompany some of the more grandiose speeches. She even whips out a ukulele at one point to strum out a Billy Bragg instrumental to underscore some images. At no point does it come across as didactic or evangelical. There is no hard sell to recruit us to do the same.
And yet… so charming, self-deprecating and downright funny is Russell’s persona, you can’t help admiring her and wanting to emulate her endeavours in some way.
She is supported by co-writer Gareth Brierley, who sits behind a table voicing characters she encountered and representing each one by holding up an appropriate style of shoe. It’s a simple but effective device. The table soon becomes crowded with these tokens, hinting at the scale of the enterprise. Brierley also throws shapes in a contemporary dance number that steals the limelight from a montage of photos we are invited to look at on a screen.
Director Tessa Walker keeps things moving to keep us focussed. Facts and figures are delivered in a wide variety of ways and there are changes in tone and mood to keep us interested.
It’s a very amusing, touching and thought-provoking 70 minutes that might just change your life.
A little bit.
If you can’t get to a performance and would like to find out more, follow @betterussell on Twitter or have a butcher’s at http://www.366daysofkindness.com