Here We Go

Theatre, Experimental
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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The peerless Caryl Churchill's latest is a gaze into the face of death that'll polarise the hell out of audiences

Caryl Churchill’s latest has been billed as ‘a short play about death’, but if there’s one thing I can say about ‘Here We Go’ that probably won’t be divisive, it’s that it’s more accurate to describe it as three short plays about death.

They would, however, appear to be linked by the same protagonist: even if he’s absent in the first part, which is set at a wake. The only scene in which most of the cast appear, it’s a spiralling, swooping series of half-disconnected dialogues in which a collection of well-groomed types attempt to reminisce about the late man. But they’re constantly cutting each other off or finishing each other’s sentences: did they really know him in any meaningful way? Is this a legacy? Each also breaks off, rather amusingly, to tell us when they’ll die themself.

In the second part, an apparently dead man (Patrick Godfrey) – presumably who the wake was for – is half picked out by a spotlight. He babbles furiously, amusingly, about his past and possibility of reincarnation – but there is a disconcerting lack of anything in his present. If this is the afterlife, it is inky, solitary and empty.

Finally, in the third, and most difficult section, closer to performance art than narrative theatre, we see the man again. In the very long, very silent scene, he is assisted by a nurse, who slowly helps him undress, change, and walk the two feet or so from his bed to an easy chair, where he is slowly undressed and changed for bed. Then he torturously hauls himself back to bed… and begins the whole thing over again. It is blackly comic, ineffably haunting – was this his dementia-stricken life before he died? or is this some sort of hell? – and is almost certainly going to polarise audiences between those who think Dominic Cooke’s production is pretentious wank and those who see something profoundly haunting at its heart.

Me, I fall firmly into the second camp. The three exquisitely atmospheric sections are linked by Churchill’s virtuoso control of language, by an unnerving sense of absence at the heart of each scene – the man is literally absent in the first, he is without a present in the second, and his body seems to lack a soul in the third (as does his drudge-like carer) – and by a black humour that resonates far off, like the mad laughter of the cosmos. With more than a nod to Beckett, Churchill is peering into the void, sketching out three ideas of what death might mean, finally journeying beyond reason, beyond words on an odyssey into nothing. It is only entertaining in the most abstract, extreme sense of that word, and it’s certainly challenging; but then what’s more challenging than the idea of death?

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