Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Theatre review: Here We Go

Caryl Churchill's certainly been very visible lately: Revivals of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire and A Number, a new play coming up at the Royal Court, and before that "a short play about death," the variously lyrical and frustrating Here We Go, directed by Dominic Cooke at the Lyttelton. Its three scenes appear to take place in reverse chronological order, beginning at a funeral where mourners including Joshua James, Amanda Lawrence, Alan Williams, Eleanor Matsuura and Madeline Appiah exchange stilted snippets of conversation about the deceased, platitudes about what a memorable character he was and how they can't quite believe he's gone. But we also get a glimpse into their own mortality as each of them turns to the audience to let us know when and how they will die (one will be run over the very next day.) For the next scene we go back a bit to meet the deceased himself (Patrick Godfrey,) moments after his death.

Picked out in a spotlight, he's found himself in the legendary tunnel with a bright light at the end of it and, never having believed in an afterlife, has a lot to reassess very quickly.

There's something very moving about this central scene and the way Godfrey delivers the dead man's speech, thinking of possible afterlives from Christian Heaven and Hell, to Valhalla and the Greek Underworld, to reincarnation, and with each thought seeing that option become a reality: It isn't quite fear but an excited fascination with the possibilities, good or bad, opening up before him. And the final scene, where Churchill deliberately pushes the audience's patience to the point of trolling, may explain why.

For this longest, silent scene, we go back to the elderly man in his last days, with his carer (Hazel Holder) helping him to change from his pyjamas to his day clothes, and moving him from his bed to his armchair. As soon as he gets there, she changes him back; over about 20 minutes he changes each way twice. Initially quietly moving it inevitably becomes incredibly dull, which is of course the point. It's certainly monotonous to watch and I think for a lot of people it'll make Here We Go a complete loss, but I think in retrospect it certainly lends a lot of texture to the scenes that preceded it. If the point is to make the audience look forward to death it succeeds, whether in a good or bad way will probably vary from person to person.

Here We Go by Caryl Churchill is booking in repertory until the 19th of December at the National Theatre's Lyttelton.

Running time: 50 minutes straight through.

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