Everyman at the National Theatre, South Bank, London
The start of a new era – this is what watching Everyman at the Lyttleton Theatre feels like. Everyman, the medieval morality play, first stirred the collective unconscious mind of people in the early 1400s. Arguably the start of theatre as we know it today, it was directly influenced by the theatre of church ritual. When I first took part in Everyman, playing Knowledge, it was a very organised affair in the gardens of Southwell cathedral. Shocking to some onlookers – as the play describes the debauchery of Everyman. In this production, the new wave of 1975 influenced fashion and design shines bright. Rufus Norris directs – this is his first production as Director of the National. Carol Ann Duffy, the writer is the Poet Laureate and Creative Director of the Manchester Metropolitan University Writing School. In the Everyman story, death comes to take Everyman abruptly, in the prime of his life and he’s forced to make a reckoning before God. Carol Ann Duffy takes the theme of ecocide for this production – all of us adversely altering our planet and climate.
“How all mankind grows worse from year to year..
The angels weep to see the ruin of the Earth:
the gathered waters, which I called the Seas,
unclean, choking on themselves.
The dry land – fractured, fracked.”
The production is not tight – you are aware of life being wasted amid splurges of decadence, spending, debauchery and the pathetic desperation of Everyman to survive. The motley crew of actors are suitably scattered and sometimes out of sync. God is not shown as a bright angelic saviour of forgiveness. God is on stage sweeping up before the play opens with a party to celebrate Everyman’s fortieth. Funny, witty and playful against the underlying core of hopelessness, the tenuous desire that Everyman might be forgiven and survive death, is not granted. Death played laconically by Dermot Crowley – claims Everyman.
The audience stood and cheered – it’s a hell of a play to watch and Chiwetel Ejiofor is tremendous as Everyman.