Kind Stranger, Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan, three stars

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AS THE festive season draws nearer, the customary charity appeals start to hit home, featuring images of the stricken and needy who look to the kindness of strangers for succour. And it’s the open-ended humanity of altruistic giving that Matthew McVarish weaves into his play about one middle-aged man’s painfully acquired beginnings of self-knowledge.

Our ‘kind stranger’ – played by Tom Urie – has, for reasons that gradually filter into this monologue of memories and confessions, taken to hospital visiting. His self-imposed task is to read to patients who are in a coma, the hope being that the sound of a friendly voice – or maybe some episode from a favourite book – will trigger the person into responding, even recovering vitality. With no clues as to the identity of the unconscious man in the bed, Urie’s character opts to connect across the divide with cheery chat, incentivizing quotes from Churchill, Buddha, Shakespeare and Cher, along with fragments from Dickens’s Christmas Carol. But Urie’s upbeat approach soon fades as he dips into his own life issues as a gay man: love unexpectedly found, love nonetheless lasting across decades, love cruelly lost - and with it the will to live. As more information about the comatose man emerges, so too does a theme about who, or what, is a life-saving agent – perhaps the ‘kind stranger’ who intervenes just in time... McVarish and director Maggie Kinloch both allow Urie to go for the laughs that are really a coping mechanism, but as the plot-line cork-screws towards its conclusion, Urie feelingly draws together the ghosts that - as with Scrooge - have awakened his estranged inner being. Sometimes you have to be kind to yourself, as well as to others.