How kindly do you treat the strangers you meet every day? Bernadette Russell’s 366 Days of Kindness, currently touring the UK, is a multimedia show, part-stand-up and part-documentary, which tackles this slippery question. The big question is scrawled at the front of the stage, “Can kindness change the world?”
It was her experience of the 2011 UK riots that inspired Bernadette’s project. “It was scary”, she says simply. “There were more fires in London than there had been since the blitz; shops broken into and goods pillaged; and the ensuing severe sentences did little to calm the mudslinging charges of blame.”
Bernadette’s response was part self-deprecation, part genuine question: “What can I do about it?” And thus the idea for 366 Days was born. Bernadette would do an “uncommon act of kindness” every day. She gave flowers to strangers in Tesco, decorated telephone boxes, and baked cakes labelled “eat me”.
The play features Bernadette and Gareth, both of whom are performers and writers. Bernadette plays herself, Gareth those she encounters through her year-long journey. It’s genuinely funny, with musical interludes, film footage, and terrific energy from the duo. This is a show that depends on audience response to the people on stage — if we’re not taken in by their niceness, who’s going to respond?
They’ve a message of hope, not of optimism; it is genuinely uplifting. Can kindness make a difference? One interviewee says that if she didn’t believe it could, there would be no point getting out of bed. “It takes real strength to counter sadness”, Bernadette points out.
Near the start, 366 Days of Kindness features an interview with Dan Thompson, who started #riotcleanup. He explains that the clean-up took off because it was something achievable: something “small, simple, visible”. As Bernadette points out, she didn’t give up all her possessions and turn her back on her previous life. So, can kindness change the world? Bernadette and Gareth say yes.
366 Days of Kindness is touring until 28th May. See here for more information.