by Lynn on July 10, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

In the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, Eng

Written by Anonymous
In a new adaptation by Carol Ann Duffy
Directed by Rufus Norris
Choreographer and Movement director, Javier De Frutos
Set by Ian MacNeil
Costumes by Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting by Paul Anderson
Video designer, Tal Rosner
Music by William Lyons
Sound by Paul Arditti
Starring: Sharon D. Clarke
Dermot Crowley
Kate Duchêne
Chiwetel Ejiofor

An updated version of the medieval morality play about one man’s search for redemption, in an eye-popping production by Rufus Norris, the new Artistic Director of the National Theatre.

The Story. Everyman is celebrating his 40th birthday by clubbing, drugging, drinking and cavorting with his friends. He is hugely successful at what he does and that seems to be making money. He has enjoyed all seven of the deadly sins and does not seem to have regrets. But then Death comes calling telling Everyman that God has summoned him to explain his life and seek redemption. And so it begins. Everyman has to face his life and recon with it.

The Production. This is the first production directed by Rufus Norris as new the Artistic Director of the National Theatre. Since it’s updating the original medieval morality play, designers Ian McaNeil (sets) Nicky Gillibrand (costumes) and Paul Anderson (lights) have created a flashy, neon-coloured-strobe-LED lighted design with music from the Medieval period and modern music (William Lyons) but played on period instruments. The cast sings some of the folk songs. Beautiful.

As we file in a woman in work clothes slowly mops the stage. I see glitter in her pile of detritus. She looks out at us occasionally. She gives pithy remarks in a resigned, off-handed way about how her work is never done and it’s amazing what people leave behind. She is Kate Duchêne and she plays God, rather majestically in a quiet, resigned way. Interesting move, that….making God a woman.

The play proper begins with a blast of rock music as a silhouetted figure free-falls from the flies, arms out as if sky diving but without the parachute, and disappears into a great pit in the Olivier stage. Talk about an entrance to die for. Everyman has arrived and gone in a sense. We learn later that he did himself in in fact by falling from a roof, perhaps in a drugged stupor.

A few minutes later a party is in full swing with stylish people kissing, dancing and drinking. Everyman walks up out of the pit looking dapper and fit in a suit. He is greeted by one and all. It’s their birthday party to him. As played by Chewetel Ejiofor, he is charming, gracious, hip, with it, and the master of his own domain. Someone brings out plastic bags of white powder and spreads it along both long edges of a table about 20 feet long. I assume it’s a celebratory whack of cocaine which Everyman snorts from one end of the table to the other. It is such a long, smooth snort that even I sit up straight, sniff and tweak my nose. There is a sense of entitlement about him. He’s done his best but he can’t be blamed for the ills of the world as he tells God. I’m also intrigued that considering this Everyman is so self-absorbed and entitled he doesn’t ask why he should be summoned by God to explain himself. This is a generation who answers to no one.

Ejiofor is a dandy actor. I’ve seen him in a lot of theatre here. Strangely in Everyman he does not seem comfortable. He seems one noted which is so odd for him. Is it the text? Is it the direction of Rufus Norris? Don’t know. It just odd.

I’m intrigued by the modern version of the play by Carol Ann Duffy, a celebrated poet in England. I’m intrigued enough to plan to go back and read the source material to see how Duffy has changed, updated, the story. I don’t think you need to be familiar with the original, but I’m interested. This is a dense text and a fast moving production.

In his first production as new Artistic Director of the National Theatre Rufus Norris brings his vivid vision and style to his production. All the resources of the Olivier are used; garish, flashing lights; traps; suspension from the flies. Certainly that entrance in silhouette of Everyman sky-diving to his death is startling. Do people know it’s him? Does it matter? They will twig later when he says that he fell off a roof. There is a sense of pace, frenzy, people submerging in the seven deadly sins without a care of worry. Humanity is on the stage in a swirl. And rock music arrangements for the music, played on period instruments. Lots of thought went into this and it shows.

. Why did I see it? Because it’s a play that is rarely done and the National Theatre is one of the few places to do it. It’s directed by Rufus Norris whose work I really like. And it stars Chewetel Ejiofor. Everyman was the first production I saw after I landed. A good way to begin a theatre vacation.

Produced by the National Theatre

Run: April 29, 2015 to Aug. 30, 2015.
Cast: 26; 16 men, 10 women
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, no interval.

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