Here We Go, National Theatre, review: ‘Poignant but gruelling’

Here We Go at the National Theatre. Picture: Keith Pattison

Here We Go at the National Theatre. Picture: Keith Pattison - Credit: Keith Pattison

You’ll lose the will to live through this triptych’s musings on morality, says Marianka Swain.

It’s life and death in Caryl Churchill’s new play, a 45-minute Beckettian triptych on mortality. At 77, she can still be relied upon to challenge in both content and form, with her latest effort guaranteed to polarise.

Well-wishers gather after a funeral, conveying the dead man’s identity via patented Churchillian fragmented dialogue. He was anarchistic but an MP, once good-looking, hated dogs, loved cats, had a temper. Characters break off to relate their own deaths, 26 years later, 12, tomorrow. The delivery needs more clarity and precision, but there’s wry, vivid gallows humour, particularly from Susan Engel, who quips that death comes at you suddenly “like stepping on a rake”.

In part two, Patrick Godfrey’s spotlit, half-naked elderly man is trapped in a pitch-black liminal space – a striking, painterly image created by Vicki Mortimer’s monumental design. However, his afterlife philosophising doesn’t quite match up to the towering visual. Is there a guiding force? Do we get what we deserve? What about ghostly hauntings, Hell, reincarnation? Another go “would be welcome”, except for the risk of losing his essential identity. Gently probing rather than gripping.

The closing section is where some viewers may lose the will to live. Godfrey’s invalid is painstakingly aided in the process of dressing and undressing by his stoic carer (Hazel Holder), again and again, in an endless Sisyphean loop. Poignant and effectively purgatorial, but the impact dissipates over a gruelling 20 minutes.

The fatal error is programming an understated piece that needs immersive intimacy in the cavernous proscenium arch Lyttelton. Churchill’s elliptical work leaves us in an appropriately unsettling void, but Dominic Cooke’s remote staging means too many of her ideas are merely communicated, rather than brought to full dramatic life.

Rating: 3/5