The Theatreguide.London Review
Lyttelton Theatre November-December 2015
Barely forty-five minutes in total, Caryl Churchill's rumination on death and dying starts thin and unambitious, becomes thin and ambitious, and then – having lured you into minimal expectations – hits you with a sequence of almost unbearable emotional depth and resonance.
The piece actually does divide into three independent episodes, and you might suspect that Churchill had false starts on three separate plays, discovering that she ran out of things to say or said all she wanted in fifteen minutes each, before getting the idea of putting them together.
The partly comic first scene is set after a funeral, as the friends and family of the dead man exchange platitudes and small talk without any real emotion, frequently not even bothering to finish sentences since the only place they could go is further platitudes.
In the second a newly deceased man floats in darkness trying to figure out where he is, as guesses drawn from Christian doctrine, Greek and Norse mythology, Buddhist reincarnation and Newtonian entropy offer little guidance.
Neither of these scenes prepares for the audacity and power of the last, which I will not describe beyond saying that an extended and totally wordless sequence captures with immense emotional power the experience of the aged with nothing left but waiting to die. *
With a less sensitive director than Dominic Cooke, and perhaps an audience that hadn't been prepared by the opening two-thirds of the evening, this sequence could have gone flat or, even worse, led to giggles.
That it doesn't – that it leaves you stunned and moved in ways you couldn't have anticipated – is a salute to playwright, director and a cast led by Patrick Godfrey and Hazel Holder.
*Later note and spoiler: In the third sequence an old man sits on his bed. A nurse silently and methodically helps him off with his pyjamas and on with his clothes and then leads him the three steps to an armchair, where she immediately helps him off with his clothes and into his pyjamas and leads him back to the bed, where she immediately.... The process is repeated three times, in silence, until the lights dim.
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