Facing the prospect of death is a familar theme in mainstream theatre, whether it is Brian Clark’s Whose Life Is It Anyway? or Tom Kempinski’s Duet For One. More recently, there have been a number of plays that have broached the subject from a fresh persective such as Bella Heesom’s My World Has Exploded A Little Bit and Nicola Wren’s Replay. Written by by Callum McGowan and directed by Carla Kingham, No Place Like Hope broaches the subject of the big C in a very unsentimental fashion. With most of the play taking place between two women about female relationships, it certainly passes the Bechdel test.
Given a non-custodial sentence, 17-year-old Becca (Holly Donovan) has to spend to her community service cleaning in a hospice. Initially getting off on the wrong foot, Becca ends up striking up a friendship with the reclusive Anna (Clare Corbett) who is receiving end-of-life care. Not one to mince her words, Becca’s no-nonsense demeanour is a breath of fresh air for Anna who is used to people tiptoeing around her or dealing with nurses like Bri (Max Calandrew) who tell her when she should eat, sleep and so on. As they get to know each other better, Anna and Becca discuss the well-meaning, but ultimately exasperating platitudes people use such as those in self-help books, plus what people expect of each of them. However, there are there things in both their lives that they’re reluctant to talk about, things that explain why they behave they do.
As the animated and fearless Becca, Donovan brings loads of energy to the play, a trait that rubs off on Anna and wakes her from her ‘slumber’. As a character, Becca isn’t ‘difficult’ for its own sake, but truthful to a fault and sticks up for the ‘underdog’. Becca’s also a big film buff and likes to drop famous lines from films into conversation, which Donovan performs admirably. I was laughing a hell of a lot at these.
Far from being in her twilight years, Anna’s a relatively young woman and so her situation is all the more compelling for the audience. However, what really makes the character interesting is her back story and the notion of being ‘alone’ pre- and post-prognosis. Rather than follow the five stages of grief and loss to the letter, the play poses questions about who do we live for and whether coming face to face with our mortality, do we desire more company when loneliness can be felt when surrounded by people? As the ‘observer’, Bri offers an ‘outsider’s’ perspective, and sheds light on how and why people work in hospice care – the ‘win’ to be found in improving the quality of life, not just the delaying death.
As a play, No Place Like Hope ‘stares into the Abyss’ and confronts head-on the the unpalatable truths about our reactions to death. In the final ‘moment of truth’, it is a frightening prospect, but denying one’s true feelings doesn’t help, especially for the sake of others. Pain demands to be felt.
© Michael Davis 2017
No Place Like Hope runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 25th November.