Brighton Fringe 2014
More anecdotal lecture than theatre – this piece is based around a dare artist Bernadette Russell set herself – to offer an act of kindness to a stranger, every day, for 366 days. What follows is an enchanting and inspiring reveal of her process and its results.
Bernadette Russell is an engaging and playful presence. Provoked by the Brixton riots in 2012 and the realisation that her life was a littered with examples of not being such a kind person after all, she set herslef this personal challenge in an attempt to redress the balance – to offer an act of kindness to a stranger for every day of the year (this one was a leap year – hence the 366). It is an upbeat and inspiring idea.
Writer performer, Bernadette plays a version of herself through out. She has an earnest childlike quality that has undertones of awkwardness and – whilst charming – also has an intense quality, rarely changing pitch or coming to quiet. She describes herself as a ‘red lipstick, capital letters kind of person’ – which sums the tone up perfectly. We are ushered through the tentative beginnings of her quest, from triumphant success to minor failure via all the more ordinary interactions along the way. Kindnesses ranged from compliments, via gifts (flowers, books, cards etc) to simply lending someone a hand.
Also onstage is actor and co-writer Gareth Brierly who happens to be Russell’s real life partner. Gareth plays a ‘resting’ actor whose limited accent skills are ‘Wookie’ and ‘Norwegian–Glasgow’. The characters Gareth embodies are represented by shoes which he pulls out one at a time and deposits in an orderly line; a simple but effective device that is surprisingly touching. He is very droll and funny – we enjoy handing ourselves over to his little moments of withering brilliance. There is a moment where he breaks out from behind his desk to bust some serious Dad moves. It is particularly joyous and a welcome break from what is otherwise quite a static form.
There are many things to love about this piece. There is a particularly enjoyable film sequence towards the end about Bernadette handing out valentines gifts – chocolates and hugs – to people. People’s responses range from heartbreakingly beautiful to rude. It seems city folk arent used to having love dumped on them… pity. We meet Sheryl who works at the charity Kindness. Sheryl, a volunteer in her 50s who loves a ciggie and a cuppa to start the day (and, one suspects, has not had an easy time of it) is shines with a love of humanity and natural joy that is infectious. She says. ‘Be kind. And if you cant do someone a good turn, then don’t do them a bad one.’
366 days is a welcome counterpoint to the scaremongering that is ravaging the UK at the moment with talk of shutting down borders and our growing suspicion of ‘foreigners’. This gentle insight into how we can turn around pervasive negative attitudes towards the disenfranchised is a timely reminder. The kindness pouring out towards Russell from people whose lives are full of struggle – homelessness, poverty, drug dependancy etc, is overwhelmingly lovely.
I highly recommend this show. If there is anything I’d add it is simply that Russell needn’t feel she has to work so hard to be liked by us. We are won over already by her quest and she can afford to trust it a little more. She’s done all the hard work, now it is time for her to relax and play a bit. The material is winning and the delivery rich.
I found myself welling up a little at the end with the idea that a random kind act with a stranger can have a positive ripple effect on all people in your vicinity. It reminds me that is takes energy and discipline to resist cynicism and act with kindness and inspired me to go out and try some. I applaud this piece for that.