The Kindness of Strangers

Reviewer's Rating

It’s 7:03pm on the front-line of the NHS ambulance service.

Five people at a time are escorted at the back of an ambulance, are issued with radio headphones – the stories of the characters are related through these – and are bounced around South London streets (a trajectory is convincingly projected on the rear door).

A young paramedic, Lisa travels with us on her first night shift out of training, both excited and terrified. She is paired up with the unseen jaded Sylvia, an old hand in the ambulance service – since 1978 – on her last night on the job. Calls appear onscreen – heart attacks, lacerations, deaths – at the same time as we hear the calming telephone support. And the pair, with the aid of a members of the audience, visit the scene of each incident and tend to the public (played by local volunteers), in its hour of need.

During the ambulance ride the two women bicker and confide. Lisa fidgets, snaps her latex gloves, folds towels, checks equipment, wipes bloodstains from the walls. She is feisty, idealistic and still insecure in her ability to cope. Sylvia, in her old boots – like the ones Nye Bevan wore – has seen and done it all. In the process she has become a cynic, angry about the decline of the NHS, the feebleness of the rising generation and the public’s stolid disregard of the NHS services.

The script skilfully explores politics, psychology and nostalgia for the past, as well as the need to keep the pace with a fast-changing world. All are called on to question their culpability, as a vital service is stretched to its limits and is abused by those who need it the most and pay for it. At the same time that the system itself is called in question for its structuring and efficacy.

A thought provoking and emotional ambulance ride!