“Most people think it’s like a bloody episode of Holby City”
The sheer inventiveness with which companies approach the world of immersive theatre is just breath-taking. Even if it isn’t always completely successful, the idea of a sleepover Macbeth, a literal rollercoaster ride, a Kafka-esque legal nightmare or an office party pushes the boundaries of how we experience theatre and in a first for me at least, Curious Directive’s latest show takes place in a moving ambulance, which travels the streets of Southwark to give a taste of the frontline of the NHS.
Given that my only previous experience in ambulances has been a) being hit by one (my fault) and b) being transported in them whilst in a coma, there might have been something mildly poignant about being escorted into the vehicle but the amnesia put paid to that. Instead, there’s a genuine sense of thrill to The Kindness of Strangers as we’re handed headphones and in our group of five, taken on a journey which marks the final shift for driver Sylvia and the first day on the job for newly-trained paramedic Lisa.
We get to hear about the multitude of shouts that are called in an average shift, we get to see their details on flickering monitors around us and intermittently, we get out of the ambulance to experience shenanigans and medical emergencies of the general public. It’s a cleverly constructed exercise co-conceived by Russell Woodhead and Jack Lowe, highly engaging in the way it plays on the visceral emotion of such situations yet maintains a level of involvement that never feels too demanding.
And in contrasting the wearied experience of the unseen Sylvia (voiced by Sarah Woodward) with the fresh idealism of Emily Lloyd-Saini’s Lisa, there’s an intelligence to the picture of the NHS that is presented to us. Sylvia’s concern that the service is in decline is barely allayed by her desire to take a desk job higher up, her fears that the new recruits aren’t up to scratch ignoring the fact that Lisa represents a fast-changing world that the NHS has to adapt to or face oblivion. A brilliant experience.