Skip to main content

Here We Go- Caryl Churchill- National Theatre

When one of the characters in Caryl Churchill’s Here We Go proclaims that they “feel 16 all the time,” it seems like a woebegone, yet ultimately hopeless rebellion against death – arguably the chief topic of this 45 minute triptych that cuts through the air like a raw wind.
But it’s an important moment in the first scene, which sees Dominic Cooke’s ensemble gather, willowy and ghost like, at the funeral of an unnamed man, where they not only share their haphazard and complicated thoughts about the deceased, but offer the audience glimpses of their future mortality as well.
Life seems so brief and yet so expansive. And Churchill’s style of writing follows suit with its short, truncated sentences as she untangles, in an essayist fashion, the meaning of existence, its cessation and our helpless but natural struggle against it. As the unnamed actors, themselves in a formless sort of purgatory, exchange pleasantries, they leave questions unanswered, and the unspoken words hang in the air like lightning bolts that find nothing earthbound to strike. The effect is to leave the audience in limbo land, a little like Vicki Mortimer’s blurred white flats and black doorways, in and out of which actors appear as if from a gaping chasm.

This sense of randomness or fate – we don’t know when a lightning bolt or an act of God will strike us down and take away our lives – is carried over into the next almost-static tableau where a dead man (perhaps the same dead man from Scene 1) appears painted in Guy Hoare’s Rembrandtesque light. Oddly, there is more life here at the “pearly gates” of Heaven than in the previous scene. Here are rage and passion, as the dead man ruminates over his life, stripped to his waist so we can see the physical, bodily contours of senescence. “How much good did I do?” he laments, but like the quote in Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, “What did you offer to make your friends so supportive?” we are not meant to take this as a public remonstration or even a moral directive.
Instead, we are forced to confront time and perspective. Guilt – of not having suffered enough and as much as others, or having done enough to help or having “Looked at a tree for too long” – lays to waste this man’s mind and soul. What would it be better to come back as? Depends on your openness and values. And how do we deal with time? Do we experience it as a compact entity, in the same way that Churchill’s writing is more dense to give it supplementary depth? Is it that we experience our lives like Guy Hoare’s flash of exterminating light – brief and yet elongated?
We are temporally limited and the last scene, heralded by Christopher Shutt’s heavenly birdsong, might be trying to make that point. This last section, which unravels in dialogue-less repetition, has plenty to say about old age and how time, like sundown, is slow, almost imperceptible yet unstoppable. If you so wish, you can choose to see Patrick Godfrey as the Old Man as visible or invisible, vacuous or deeply engaged with an inner life, left alone by others or buoyed up and physically supported by them.
Like a biblical storm of thunder and swelling seas, Churchill gathers all her themes and throws them at us to contemplate. The play is a vision. It has to be, for Churchill is tackling the very nature of existence, about which we can only have little flashes of understanding, like the shivers of energy and light that permeate the whole show. Our existence, what it is and how we experience it in time, is difficult to grasp, like catching sight of the edges of the universe itself. In the end, perhaps there is nothing except communal silence.
Dominic Cooke directs with clear cut clarity, paring away at Churchill’s crystal clear writing to find an elegant sophistication. Patrick Godfrey’s Old Man is angry, disrespectful, reverent and deflated by turns. The rest of the ensemble all give immaculate, precise performances. Whatever your age, the play is a “vision” of short lives lived long in the expanse of time.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Collabo- Hip hop with a difference

There’s a buzz in the air at Stratford Circus Arts Centre. No wonder, this is the 10th anniversary of Collabo, Tony Adigun’s annual dance celebration founded in 2006 to promote new collaborations and hip-hop hybrids from dance groups. Friday’s program of short portfolios opens with 10 (UnTitled Dance Company) choreographed by Lukas McFarlane lasting fifteen minutes (no mean feat in the hip-hop world) and featuring 10 tracks and illustrating some super synchronised steps and gyros executed with military precision. The occasional, surprising rigidness of the choreography is broken by experimentation with spoken word. Liberation (What Is Written Dance Company) has the same exactness, but their more simple choreography is easier on the eye after the mass sprawl of 10. Kweku Aacht and Guest Dancers produce an interpretation of a track performed live onstage- the sometimes rowdy crowd shouting out and encouraging the performers on hold their breath as the troupe fluctuate between free style a…

Once in a Lifetime- theatre review: slightly revised to reflect the ambiguous ending

Once in a Lifetime is a show about the tenuous and complicated relationship between creativity and destruction. Re-adapted here by Chris Hart, son of one half of the original writing duo Moss Hart and George S Kaufman, the show may well be set in 1930s Hollywood just as the talkies are about to change cinema forever, but it might also be poking fun at an art form that is a little closer to home. Director Richard Jones always takes risks with little produced, marginalised or very well known works in a bid to uncover something new that might be a comment on our own times. Here, a story about hapless Vaudeville trio act George (John Marquez), Jerry (Kevin Bishop) and May (Claudie Blakley), who set out to conquer Hollywood with their mythic elocution school, is the perfect fit for the director to explore themes that seem to obsess him: national myth, parody, the tyranny of power, willed self-destruction, bureaucracy, global fantasy, etc. So far, the show has not gone down so well with the c…

Walking the Tightrope- Theatre Delicatessen

Site-specific set? Perhaps. In the old Guardian offices in Farringdon, Offstage Theatre and Theatre Uncut curate a cycle of 12 short plays exploring the tension[s] between art and politics, reactions to the budget cuts to the arts in the UK and debate freedom of expression controversies. Corruption, class divides, perception, blood money, gesture politics and culpability, it’s all there and recent topical events are given stage time, from The Tricycle’s controversial decision to withdraw their support for the UK Jewish Film Festival to the Barbican’s cancelled Exhibit B. The plays are entertaining- Sun City by April De Angelis, Re: Exhibit by Gbolahan Obisesan, Old Newland by Julie Pascal, Tickets are on Sale Now by Caryl Churchill and Exhibit A, by Neil LaBute, all deserve special mention for looking beyond the parameters of funding and freedom of expression in the UK arts- by which of course, I mean a theatrical London still surfing the very last trickling waves of Colonialism and it…