How would you account for the time you spent on earth in front of your God? This is the central question in the 15th century morality play Everyman. Would you run; plea; try and outwit Death; or rally your friends and loved ones to your cause and ask them to accompany you to your tête-à-tête with your maker? When Everyman is confronted by Death he try’s all of these to avoid this fate, until he finally realises he cannot escape the inevitable reckoning that awaits him and all men.Everyman is the allegory of the character who must face up to God’s reckoning but in this new version, by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, there is no Bible bashing, no wrath, no fire and brimstone. Duffy has written a thoroughly contemporary version that exams Everyman’s life and achievements through his modern values of friendship, family, material goods and knowledge.
Duffy’s adaption is clever; it keeps the content secular and shines a light on our modern vices and temptations; the acting is superb and the desire to shock and provoke shines through. Hedonism plays a central role and there are innumerable indulgences referring to drink, drug and sex. And although the play is brilliant at times, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. It seems to lacks a certain edge and at times it feels like watching your parents trying to be outrageous party animals. The National Theatre is not the Young Vic, Donmar or Royal Court, nor should it try to be. The NT needs to carve out its own niche rather than take its cue from these smaller edgier theatres.
Having said this, the play is thoroughly enjoyable. Chiwetel Ejiofor is stupendous, Duffy’s verse is witty, sharp and poignant and the set and music as good as it gets.
Everyman is the first production by Rufus Norris as Artistic Director at The National Theatre and it is a tremendous start. Perhaps Norris will help the National Theatre find this “alternative” niche it seems to desire. Undoubtedly the National has the creative capacity to do it and to do it well. Let’s hope Norris is the galvanizing force they need to make it all come together.
Everyman is showing at The National Theatre in London until 30th August 2015 for tickets and information click here: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/
Everyman will be broadcast live in cinemas on 16th July 2015. For more information go to: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/
Images are from the National Theatre and via Google images.