Old Red Lion, London – until 25 November 2017
“Remember, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
On a night when the big West End opening of the evening is an absolute testosterone-fest, it is rather gratifying to see people actually doing something about it, to try and start to redress the balance in their own way. Producer Holly Donovan is one such shining light, using her own negative experiences of gender bias to act as an impetus to finding a play that passed the Bechdel Test and then building a production around it that uses an all-female creative team.
Callum McGowan’s No Place Like Hope is that play and what a delicately moving thing it is, depicting an unlikely friendship between two women reeling from the tragedy that life has thrown at them. Becca is a troubled young woman who is carrying out her community service at a hospice and Anna is a cancer patient there and from inauspicious beginnings, a kinship is recognised as they each find in the other something to cling onto, something that might alleviate their despair.
It’s a soul-aching loneliness that is the crucial connection, the unexpected gift of company that they can provide the glue that keeps them together, but it is the eloquence of McGowan’s musings on mortality that prove the most tenderly devastating. The stark acceptance of the reduction of an entire life to one sparsely furnished room is a weight that Clare Corbett’s Anna bears balefully, an indignity that twists almost as painfully as the disease ravaging her from the inside.
And Donovan is most effective in showing how Becca’s brittle, brattish exterior masks a different, but no less potent source of pain, as she exorcises her demons by smuggling in smokes and bottles of Bacardi in defiance of Ma Calandrew’s kindly Bri, the healthcare assistant tasked with assigning her duties. Director Carla Kingham controls the emotion of the piece extremely well, never sinking into the maudlin but unafraid to pluck at a heartstring when necessary. And through its measured detail, it’s also a most thought-provoking play – what are the coping mechanisms that we resort to in times of crisis? What would be the books and mementos we kept if we only had one small shelf? How much do we take having someone to listen to us for granted? Bittersweetly beautiful.