Two people meet at a bus stop. Martin is a young professional who’s visiting the hospital and Leila is a frustrated waitress with big dreams. Rascal Theatre Company’s An Act of Kindness introduces us to them both through Leila’s adorable attempt to strike up a conversation with Martin which helps us immediately relate and empathise with both characters. We’ve all had someone try and chat with us at a bus stop and sometimes you want to be left alone and sometimes you want to talk. He acts the way I usually do – shortened, sharp answers before beginning to open up. The scene ends and we open at the same location at a different time on a different day. The play uses these mechanics to cut to a different scene in which they both are at the same bus stop. This happens over and over again, each time observing their interaction and enjoying the different power dynamics their friendship moves through. While the play begins very lighthearted, it manages to smoothly explore weighty emotional themes that, due to its realistic style, make some moments difficult to watch.
It avoids romantic tropes, focussing instead on friendship and bonding that elevates it above other dramas. By allowing us to be there for their first meeting, we learn as much about them as they learn about each other. A particularly striking scene sees Martin arrive at the bus stop after a night out where he plays twenty questions with Leila, allowing us to delve a little deeper into her backstory and uncover some of her dreams and anxieties. Of course, because he’s a little worse for wear the next time they meet, he doesn’t remember the encounter and ends up trampling her feelings by accident. It’s a fantastically structured double punch and, again, one that a lot of us can relate too.
For a two person play to work as well as An Act of Kindness does the credit must go to both actors Robert Hayes and Helena Waterman who just live and breathe the material. The premise is simple and the characters fully formed, and it’s all held together by a superb script. It really is a perfectly crafted play that joyfully swept me away from the troubles of the everyday and left me with the belief that kindness can come from anywhere. I left the theatre a warmer, kinder, better person and urge you to check it out.