A story about an unlikely friendship: two misfits find each other to re-find life again. We all have heard these stories. No Place Like Hope, written by Callum McGowan, fits this pattern. However, the friendship of Anna (Claire Corbett) and Becca (Holly Donovan) surprises with its simultaneous sensitivity and humour dealing with the paradox of being alive in the face of death.

Donovan, as one of the lead actresses, is also the producer of the show. Aiming to challenge gender imbalance and sexism in the arts industry, the all-female creative team with director Carla Kingham created a play with a strong double-female lead to pass the Bechdel Test. No Place Like Hope is in partnership with the charity Victoria’s Promise which supports young women through cancer.

Anna is a cancer patient in a hospice. Her everyday life gets disrupted when Becca is sent there to comply a community punishment order. Their resistance against the force that put them in the same place at the same time sparks a connection and they start to get to know each other. Sharing cigarettes turns into having deeper conversation and slowly both everyday mask starts to crumble and to dissolve. The routine in the hospice is a constant displacement from the world outside its doors.  How is a coping possible for all parties involved? When there is no agency over one’s life, can hope even be an active decision?

The straight-forwardness and honesty which characterised the friendship of the young women is a defence and protection of any acceptance and attachment. Behind their tough mask of repartee, vulnerability hides. The change of perspectives the story offers, especially the introduction of the male nurse Bri (Max Calandrew), moves the plot beyond clichés. Thus, doors to the outside world are open in order to prevent any self-absorption and self-pity. McGowan’s play moves alongside wittiness to approach loneliness and maybe find No Place Like Hope in a strangers’ encounter.  

The black box stage displays a reproduction of Anna and Becca’s momentary daily life, but the mimesis gets unwillingly disrupted. There are scenes in-between, presented in dim light, that ought to rather be a scene change or a presentation of the daily routine in the hospice.  They present a merge of both and an active decision for one of the option is highly recommended. Furthermore, some creative decisions like the presentation of a duty rota or being drunk should be carried out precisely and convincingly until the end of the scene or play to not dismantle the representation.

Although the acting of the cast is outstandingly authentic and convincing in the end, it seemed that especially Donovan needed to warm up and find her way in the story. The strong bond between Donovan and Corbett on stage could have affected the rushed beginning where the display of the characters is portrayed in the same pace and rhythm before the skilled individual embodiment takes over.   

The story and its execution fulfil their aim to overcome clichés. But this goal sometimes seems to overly affect the creative decision. Some intimate scenes could last longer to dwell in the warm atmosphere of togetherness without being classified a stereotyped moment. Even though the unfolding of time can be extended in certain situations, the end scene is on the edge of its time limit and could be executed more determinedly.   

No Place Like Hope finds the right tone to present the paradox of aliveness in the juxtaposition with death. In a sensitive and funny way, the audience is guided through the everyday life on the edge to the finish line of life. Regardless of predetermined fate, interjection and projection of the own despair is only reinforcing the distance to the world and the own loneliness. The focus on strangers’ encounters questions the intimacy we share with the closest people in our life and our honesty in embodying ourselves in the daily life. Maybe there exists something like hope in the unlikeliest places. Maybe all we need is a change of perspective to cope with the everyday life. Find out for yourself in No Place Like Hope!

No Place Like Hope is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 25th of November. For more information and tickets, see www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/no-place-like-hope