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Here We Go

Caryl Churchill
Lyttelton Theatre (National)

Patrick Godfrey Credit: Keith Pattison
Patrick Godfrey Credit: Keith Pattison
Susan Engel, Stuart McQuarrie, Madeline Appiah, Joshua James, Amanda Lawrence, Alan Williams and Eleanor Matsuura Credit: Keith Pattison

Caryl Churchill prides herself on unpredictability, never delivering the same play twice and experimenting with form wherever possible. Even in the context of her long and highly successful career, Here We Go is an oddity.

Running at only 45 minutes, this new piece directed by Dominic Cooke falls into three distinct sections, with the connecting factor an Old Man played by Patrick Godfrey, who belies his 82 years.

In fact, the unnamed Old Man does not appear in the first section, during which an ensemble of eight actors of high quality deliver eulogies at his wake. In sentences that never quite end, an impressionistic vision of this left-leaning intellectual's life and career can slowly be pieced together from the observations of his loved ones.

To ensure that the theme of life and more particularly death is reiterated, every guest at some point in the proceedings announces the date and circumstances of their own passing. These span from one day to 62 years after the events that we witness are taking place.

Just as viewers begin to get to know the protagonist, albeit in kaleidoscopic fashion, the lights go down and take some time to re-emerge.

Now, they are firmly concentrated on Godfrey, who delivers a long, rambling but allusive monologue about the netherland between life and heaven/hell or whatever else might actually be the final destination post-mortem.

Picking up on some of the humour of the first part but also trading on society’s fears as presented by numerous theorists, writers and philosophers, our guide presents almost every conceivable version of the Limbo or Purgatory that he occupies while awaiting he knows not what.

Although insubstantial, the proceedings to this point are intellectually challenging, without scaring viewers off.

The final scene, which probably occupies about half of the playing time, contains deep symbolism but little action. Now, the entrancing Godfrey has tracked back a short time to his character’s final days, silently helped by a patient carer or nurse played by Hazel Holder.

Painfully (literally) slowly, she helps him dress and move with the assistance of a Zimmer frame from his bed to a chair no more than a few feet away. Having got there, the progress is reversed until he is back in pyjamas and bed then the loop restarts.

Cleverly, the lights gradually go down on what becomes a rather odd but deeply affecting imitation of the experiences that we must all expect to enjoy or endure if we live to the ripe old ages that scientists (or actuaries) now predict.

Here We Go may be very short but that has rarely stopped Caryl Churchill from challenging and invigorating audiences. There is little question that this cleverly written drama will make most visitors contemplate the latter stages of life anew, although some might find the final scenes either too painful to watch or alternatively in need of a fast forward button.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher