Friday, 15 May 2015

Everyman

A startling debut from the new director of the National, with a lyrical script from Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy

Written by Georgina Brown
Georgina-Brown-colour-176We’ve a new head honcho at the National, Rufus Norris, a director you might have noticed for London Road, the documentarymusical about the Ipswich prostitutes murdered in 2006. Norris’s extraordinarily original production, bursting with theatricality, suggested he was something special. His bravura opening show, medieval morality play Everyman, or rather, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s thoroughly modern version of it, pumped full of dramatic surprises, is further proof.

It begins with a woman with lank grey hair mopping the floor in a rather desultory way. ‘Imagine the high point of your dramatic career being Mrs Mop,’ muttered my companion, jumping to a conclusion that immediately jumped back. For the woman turned and spoke to us. ‘Good day at work?’ she asked, moving swiftly on to matters more existential: ‘What’s God like?’ I almost shouted ‘Brian Glover’ – a bald, blunt Yorkshire Almighty in the marvellous staging of The Mysteries in 1985 – but she had already answered: ‘Me.’ A show bold enough to make God a char, especially one so all-seeing that her bucket is at the ready to collect the vomit spewing from Chiwetel Ejiofor’s hungover Everyman, certainly gets my vote.

God has decided Everyman’s time is up, as punishment for his hedonism and trashing the beautiful world to boot. She dispatches Dermot Crowley’s Death, a deliciously dry, caustic Irishman, to find him. He chooses Ejiofor, ‘one who’s squandered his God-given time on pleasure, treasure, leisure, etcetera’.

Verbally, this show is a treat, if sometimes a smutty one. Duffy’s irreverent, sometimes rhyming version features expletives, Cliff Richard’s colostomy bag and the suggestion that being good in bed might not count as goodness when it comes to the final reckoning. Norris overextends Everyman’s drug-taking, orgiastic 40th birthday celebration, impressively choreographed by Javier de Frutos. But otherwise this show is a visual stunner: in one scene, Everyman plummets past shiny, recognisable shots of London, hitting the ground with a resounding thud. Another illustrates the devastation of a tsunami, an industrial fan blowing bank notes all over the theatre. Humankind’s carelessness is costing us the earth, in every sense.

And while it provides a timely nudge to one’s conscience, this Everyman doesn’t put the fear of God into one, as it might. No hell or damnation awaits Ejiofor’s movingly anguished character. Duffy’s God is infinitely loving. Even so, at the end, when a beady Death turns to the audience and says, ‘Eeny meeny miney mo… Who’s next?’, I was happy not to be ‘mo’.

Until 30 August at the National Theatre, London SE1: 020-7452 3000, www.nationaltheatre.org.uk


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