"Are those the pearly gates?"
Almost like buses, you wait for a new Caryl Churchill play and two come along - Escaped Alone
will play at the Royal Court in the New Year but up first is Here We Go
at the National, directed by Dominic Cooke. Described as "a short play about death", it clocks in at 45 minutes but depending on how you fare with it, it may seem like longer...
Churchill has split her musings on mortality into a triptych of distinct but related scenarios. The first scene sees the playwright deploy her characteristic linguistic playfulness on a group of mourners at a funeral, their fragmented chit-chat skirting around the larger issues, their individual asides to the audience riffing beautifully on the coda to Six Feet Under's magisterial finale (of all things).
Scene two takes the form of a questioning monologue by the dead man himself, suspended in the crepuscular gloom of the netherworld. It explores differing ideas of the afterlife from different cultural traditions but ultimately all interrogating the same (crowded) space and Patrick Godfrey delivers it perfectly, frail but fierce.
And then there's the final montage, the one that everyone will be talking about. Godfrey features again, with Hazel Holder as a care worker this time, and in an extended wordless sequence of intended monotony, sets up a real challenge. Friends have variously described it as like a Sisyphean endeavour, a deliberate trolling exercise from Churchill - daring people to break out of 'normal' audience behaviour, or the worst thing they've ever seen...
For me, it tapped into the emotional hinterland for both carer and the cared-for that comes with long-time caring for a loved one - its repetitive nature, the inherent frustrations, the uncertainty of how long it can go on for, how long it could go on for. And seeing how people around you react to this is fascinating, I had walkouts, guffaws, people switching their phones on as well as rapt attentiveness. Here We Go may well be obtuse but I found it highly thought-provoking as well and I can't wait to hear more and more reactions to it.
Running time: 45 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 19th December, 16 performances only
Labels: Alan Williams, Amanda Lawrence, Caryl Churchill, Eleanor Matsuura, Hazel Holder, Joshua James, Madeline Appiah, Patrick Godfrey, Stuart McQuarrie, Susan Engel