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No Place Like Hope (Susan Elkin reviews)

Death is waiting in the wings for all of us. And we cope with that reality by not thinking about it most of the time and assuming we shan’t feel the grim reaper’s scythe for many decades. Sometimes though, the young or relatively young, have to face the horror of death and that’s what Callum McGowan’s intensely powerful 90 minute three-hander explores.

Anna (Claire Corbett), 30-ish, is dying of cancer in some sort of institution – presumably a hospice. Then seventeen year old Becca (Holly Donovan) arrives in her room as temporary cleaner on a community service order. Brian (Max Calandrew) is the care assistant who has day-to-day, first line responsibility for Anna. What follows is an unravelling of the dynamic between the three of them, including an unlikely but intense and supportive friendship between the two women. The acting is stunning. Each actor plays impeccably off whoever the dialogue is with.

Corbett’s Anna is brittle and wryly funny. Loneliness is her character’s big problem along with fear of the oblivion which awaits her. We gradually realise that she has few if any visitors and has deliberately cut herself off from the world. She’s middle class in a way that Becca is not but the latter, who exudes (often amusing) down to earth, forthright common sense becomes increasingly articulate as the play progresses. Both actors manage their differentiating accents well although there was sometimes a slight audibility problem from my seat – possibly because I was immediately under the rotating fan in the corner of the space. Calandrew starts out by being kindly but distant and gradually thaws – another fine performance.

There are two episodes in No Place Like Hope which will stay with me for a long time. First was the moment when Becca eventually tells Anna about the devastating incident which has made her what she is – and it was nothing to do with kidnapping an ill treated dog and getting a CSO for it. I was, literally, on the edge of my seat all the time she was speaking. And you could feel sudden audience stillness too. The other is when Brian and Becca share a sneaky cigarette at Anna’s window while Anna is elsewhere. He tells Becca why he doesn’t believe in God and how he copes with working with the dying every day. And it’s riveting.

This is a beautifully written play and I’m not in the least surprised to learn that it won the Lost Theatre’s One-Act Play Festival in 2015. Now, after, a huge amount of work by Holly Donavan as producer, it is getting a well deserved London run until 25 November. It isn’t often that you’re part of an audience which is so stunned at the end of a play that they just sit quietly in contemplation rather than leaping to their feet and charging out. Neither is it often, hard-bitten critic as I am, that I weep in the theatre but …

 First published by Sardines
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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