The Kindness of Strangers is an immersive theatre piece ruminating on the generosity of others, contextualised by Tim Jeeves’ personal experience of being diagnosed with cancer and subsequent bone-marrow transplant at a young age. It played the Bluecoat on 1 December as part of DaDaFest International 2016. Review by Colin Hambrook.
Skin Deep was the subtitle of this year’s DaDaFest and in keeping with this theme the performing arts included many pieces involving artists baring their soul.
Tim Jeeves’s immersive multi-media performance The Kindness of Strangers was billed as a promenade and the staging included a series of seemingly random objects and seating laid out across the theatre space. The audience were invited to fill the performance area and to move around as they felt fit. Fairly early on I was asked if I would a like a whisky and was duly seated at a small table with a bottle and a whisky glass with the Alice-like instruction to “drink as much I wanted.”
It was Tennessee whisky to fit the theme of Tennessee Williams − the show being named after Blanche DuBois’ infamous line “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” from the play and subsequent film A Streetcar Named Desire.
Blanche typically sees little kindness as the plot unravels in Williams’ epic commentary on life in the Southern States in the 1930s. In her attempt to hang on to a semblance of self-respect, her foibles get the better of her and she becomes subject to cruelty and abuse from her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski, which eventually leads to her undoing.
We learn that Tim was studying the play at English A-Level when he was first diagnosed with cancer, leading to a bone marrow transplant when he was only 20 years old. We are taken on an intricate and personal journey. Details of Tim’s hopes and fears as a young man surface alongside reflections on how his audience are feeling and responding in the moment.
We get a feeling not only of what it was like to be in Tim’s shoes but also of how momentous events like recovering from malignant tumours affect an individual’s subsequent life story. He knows the name of the anonymous donor who saved his life by only a number, and as he says early on, the show is “not about being polite, tidy, complete or finished… but it is about saying a thank you.”
As much as The Kindness of Strangers tackles taboos around talking about cancer, it is also a meditation on the roles of both giver and receiver with a focus on key moments in the film such as Blanche’s admiration for the “sincerity of sick people” in a conversation with Mitch, a character who she hopes will be her redeemer.
The Kindness of Strangers is a tribute to those who reach beyond themselves in giving something valuable to complete strangers and a catalyst for thinking about what unselfish regard for others can mean. Dramas are rarely made from generosity of spirit. As human beings we tend to make more of stories of evil and ignorance. It likely relates to the fight or flight impulse and our propensity to respond to negative stimuli so much quicker than we respond to pleasurable stimuli.
Through the course of an entertaining and intimate hour or so, Tim asks us to think about what kindness means to us and how we might respond to kindness offered unconditionally.