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The Random Acts of Strangers, Etcetera Theatre

Anthony Bull
★★★

Pros: A strong cast perform interesting monologues about modern life.

Cons: Some parts of the play left me feeling a bit confused.

Our Verdict: An enjoyable evening with some very impressive acting.

Courtesy of Etcetera Theatre

The Random Acts of Strangers is a series of monologues taken from seemingly unrelated modern-day nameless characters. The story begins with ‘Stranger 1’ – a beautiful, middle-class black girl who describes the difficulties she faces in her romantic relationship. She tells us that as she grew up in a modern, progressive well-to-do neighbourhood she was never made to feel different by anyone but when she started dating an upper-class white businessman things started to change for her. At one point, she describes how she is invited to a dinner party where her partner’s friends serve up jerk chicken and play Bob Marley all evening just to make her feel more ‘at home’ (she is from Hampshire not Jamaica). Andrea Hall brings plenty of warmth and comedy to this character allowing the audience to relax into her story without losing sight of the social issues being raised. She has comic flair in abundance and it is through this warm, funny, conversational tone that she succeeds in allowing us to fully understand and empathise with the difficulties she faces.

‘Stranger 2’ is a Marilyn Monroe lookalike – a curvy, flirtatious blonde bombshell played with beautiful fragility by Susan Burton. Through her southern US drawl we learn that she was once diagnosed with breast cancer which resulted in a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. She describes her genetic legacy, a ‘grim right of passage’ which has affected many members of her family. Further characters include a successful businesswoman bravely marching through the menopause only to discover she seriously regrets not having children (expertly played by Caroline Ross). There is also a rather grotesque Thatcher supporter (great acting from Dominik Golding) and a very nice performance from Janet Amsden playing an older lady recalling an experience during WWII.

The costumes were right on target for each character. In particular the Marilyn-alike who looked like the perfect starlet in deep red; the career lady also looked suitably intimidating in her corporate attire and fur stole. The stage is very small at the Etcetera and so the set and props were understandably minimal to allow for more focus on the actors.

There is one area of the play which confused me greatly. At one point, a central character talks about listening to these stories with ‘no judgement, just an acceptance of the human condition’. But at this point one of the male characters has just described in graphic detail how he had sex with a sleeping girl before inviting his mate to also have sex with her (which he does) while she is still in that state. Maybe I’m being silly here but am I being asked not to judge that kind of behaviour and just accept it as part of the human condition? The line comes from one of the nice female characters so it seemed completely out of place. I also wondered why all of the female characters were so interesting, smart and likable when all of the men were one-dimensional monsters. This isn’t to take away from the actors who I thought were very effective portraying these men; I just didn’t understand the blatant inequality in something that is meant to reflect real life.

Although this play has a lot to offer in terms of solid, touching performances, sharp direction, interesting creative lighting and a few really funny moments here and there, I couldn’t help but feel the script was slightly out of touch and rather clichéd. With the exception of ‘Stranger 1’ and the rather baffling issue of the male characters, I didn’t feel like anything was making me really think about what I’d just seen. The issues raised were important ones but I came away feeling somewhat uninspired, like I’d just been told something I already knew about from countless other plays, films, books and TV shows.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Random Acts of Strangers runs at the Etcetera Theatre until 30th September 2012.
Box Office: 020 7482 4857 or book online at http://www.etceteratheatre.com/index.php?id=2

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