Monday, 20 July 2015

★★★★ NT LIVE: Everyman

For Rufus Norris’s debut production as the new artistic director at the National Theatre Everyman deserves to be classed as big, bold, eclectic and entirely relevant. For a start its lead character, Everyman is performed by Award Winning Actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor who yanked our heartstrings in the Oscar Winning film, 12 Years A Slave. Secondly, the contemporary and electric coloured set is actually a backdrop for a morality play originally written in the 15th century. And, on top of that, you have poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy writing reams of poetry and script for this adapted production. (Norris stated that Duffy began with twenty pages of script, which ended with seventy-two pages for the show.)
I wasn’t there at the National Theatre. Tonight [July 16], I was at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill with cinema audiences who also enjoy watching live theatre from the comfort of their local cinema. This was the first time I had seen the production and whilst viewing it on the big screen, it seemed to work really well considering the versatility of Ian MacNeil’s brilliant staging and visual elements, not to mention Ejiofor who, we know, looks good on film.
As we see NT audiences get settled in the auditorium, we watch as a cleaning lady sweeps the Olivier theatre stage, yet even before the show has began, we’re unsure if she’s part of the show or a NT staff member. All is confirmed when she turns around, projects her voice and speaks at the audience. Actress, Kate Duchêne, says ‘Enjoy it while it lasts!’ Before we know it’s actually God ranting about the falsehood of man in a dirty apron simultaneously brushing dust off the floor. Yet the quiet is instantly destroyed by an ambush of electro, dub step and high intensity club music.
Everyman celebrates his 40th birthday with coke, alcohol, debauchery and sin, and whilst this is happening the entire stage looks like a visually intensifying (and amusing) music video. Choreographer and Movement Director, Javier De Frutos adds in the intimate slow-mo, vitality and dynamics to this corrupt scene with a neatly casted team (up-to 22 supporting actors and actresses). 
Courtesy of The Stage/National Theatre
With a pair of rubber gloves and a plastic carrier bag, Irish actor Dermot Crowley makes his entrance as Death, yet don't let the humour and sarcasm fool you - there’s still a glimmer of evil in his eyes. There’s no dark cloak or nightmarish hood to identify him – just a snappy and scary persona that forces Everyman to look back at his life for a meaningful act he had committed. The rest of the show is the hair raising journey Everyman takes.
Everyman goes back to his mother, father, sister, so-called clubbing pals and a load of abstract characters (Vanity, Knowledge and Goods, etc.,) in search of a good deed yet nothing is redeemable, nor attainable. He has a reflective moment when he meets his younger self, Everyboy (played by Jeshaiah Murray) and says to him, ‘You’re so lucky!’’ Through Everyman’s desperation Ejiofor convinces us that we’ve had a few moments asking ourselves similar questions: ‘What have I done?’ or ‘What is my good deed?’ That once, we have doubted ourselves and regretted a thing, or two. 
Yet, with all such brilliant staging and acting, there are scenes that move super fast, from one abstract character to another, that it's hard to keep up with the pace, including the toing and froing from old English and casual slang. In one scene, Everyman is in prayer talking about the Act of Contrition and in another has a revelatory dialogue in plain verse with Vanity about his secular love for credit cards and bling bling. But these tiny blips didn't change how together the message of the play was cleverly delivered.
Duffy, naturally, has a way with words, which shaped the story exquisitely. Paul Arditti also deserves his due as sound designer as well as the ensemble of musicians directed by Williams Lyons. This included interesting instrumentation from a hurdy gurdy, racket, crumhorn, recorder, bagpipes, gittern and many more.

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith