I’m sat in the Old Red Lion Theatre waiting for No Place Like Hope to start. I'm looking at the well-made bed with too many pillows propped up on it. I'm looking at the bare furnishings, the books with covers full of promises, the inoffensive green of the pattern on the wall and the beaming white of everything else. I’m in a hospice. End of life care. And this environment, like a Greek Chorus or a doctor's diagnosis, has given away the ending of the story. I’m wondering whether this play is going to try to make me cry.
In walks Becca (Holly Donovan). She’s here to clean, fulfilling community service she received, she says, for stealing a dog. She’s seventeen and rebellious, supressing a fidgety energy and provoking those she meets with a mixture of childishness and insight. She has a spooky (or unbelievable?) gift for remembering movie quotes and applying them to any given situation. It looks as if she’s about to steal a trinket from a dying woman.
Enter Anna (Claire Corbett). She has cancer. She can be prickly and patronising, but maybe that’s because she’s tired and used to being alone. Instinctively, she treats Becca like an adult. She’s rebellious too, especially in her interactions with her nurse, Bri (Max Calandrew). In fact, it’s the naked hostility and open distrust of this 'healthcare professional' that first bonds the two women together. I like him though, he’s nice. I’m happy when we hear more from him.
The writing is honest and passionate. So are our protagonists. Maybe it’s the inherent finiteness of their relationship that allows them to let go, but Becca and Anna open up to one another. They help each other excavate their pasts, with warmth and humour. Both are struggling to deal with how they got here and how they'll go on. It’s a joy to watch them communicate. In fact, their friendship is so gentle and generous that when they do come into conflict it doesn’t sit right. A little too sudden, unearned. I’m glad when they see sense.
The play does try to make me cry. At the end. A perfect, still, quiet moment is interrupted by a sequence with music that’s emotionally on-the-nose. That’s ok. I remember crying over a bereavement while listening to Coldplay's 'The Scientist’. What a clichéd choice, I think now. But music and drama are there to help us feel things, if we trust them. This sensitive play is worth your trust. - Henry Gleaden