An Act of Kindness, written by Helena Westerman, is a two-hander with Westerman herself playing 22-year-old bohemian free-spirit Leila, and Robert Hayes as businessman and alpha male Martin. The entirety of the play is set at the bus stop where they first meet, and as their accidental meetings continue, their trust in one another grows. An Act of Kindness explores gender roles in one of world’s supposedly most diverse and accepting cities, London, and how they affect all of us in some way. With the chaos and constant movement of the city, Leila and Martin find each other as a safe place to vent their fears. Against a set of a crescent of items often found on London streets – including Pret A Manger cups, overflowing bins and signs asking for change – An Act of Kindness makes for pleasant and mostly amusing viewing.
As a writer, Westerman is crackingly funny. There are just enough, and I say this affectionately, stupid jokes and plenty of great puns. Maybe it was the walk through leafy Gailsford Avenue to the theatre above the cosy pub, but her writing had a Richard Curtis feel to it, and the character of Leila is reminiscent of a young and updated Bridget Jones. As a 21-year-old woman living in London, I can understand the pressure Leila feels to have a plan and goals which can sometimes be suffocating, especially in a fast-paced non-stop city. As an audience, it’s not just the acceptance of that directionless feeling that is so relatable, but also the terror that it seems to strike in everyone else when you happily confess you’re a bit lost, as Leila does. There is a great line in which Leila says ‘you can either be Wonder Woman, or a damsel in distress – but you can’t be somewhere in between.’
Westerman as an actress, however, is a ray of light, bursting with energy. Some of her writing can feel clichéd and perhaps cheesy at times, and Leila as a character can be irritatingly positive, but her delivery often saves it at she performs with unwavering enthusiasm and absolute belief in her words. Hayes is more reserved and nuanced, and seems effortless and natural as Martin. He, like Westerman, has great comic timing and he delivers more of Westerman’s silly – very ‘English’ – jokes with ease, but he’s also sincere but conflicted in tender moments as Martin confides in Leila about what’s expected of him as a man.
Apart from a few bizarre choreographed sections that feel a little superfluous, An Act of Kindness is a sweet play with a nice sentiment. Other than using the old and overused stereotype that Londoners are notoriously disengaged and ‘never smile’, the play was a lovely little snapshot of the lives of just two fictional city dwellers in the big smoke. It prompts you to consider all those you pass on the commute every morning, not just as faces, but with lives and troubles just as complex as yours.
An Act of Kindness played at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until December 3.