Everyman at The National Theatre
This week, I booked a seat for a preview for the hotly anticipated Everyman at the National Theatre. I took my £15 Travelex seat in the back row and watched with anticipation as a cleaner swept the stage for a good half an hour before the auditorium closed. Everyman was written in the late 15th Century, a morality play that has been adapted many times in the last few centuries, and has most recently been re-written for today’s audience by Carol Ann Duffy.
I must say, she has done an incredible job. The script could be compared to Shakespeare the way it combines poetry, humour, and profound metaphor to the perfect balance. It is a masterpiece of writing, and I feel confident in saying so, as I was backed up by the queue of people waiting in the National’s bookshop after the play to pick up a copy of the text – only to be disappointed as it is not available until the previews end.
My favourite line is still clear in my mind three days later – and no I didn’t write it down:
‘My mother used to watch the news, then the weather, and I have watched the weather become the news’
It is spoken whilst money is being blown into the audience, and around the theatre, by a giant fan, as journalists struggle to stay standing in the background. Everyman (the protagonist) lies at the front desperate to find something, or someone to help him defend himself at the doors of heaven, as death looms behind him.
The play itself was great at times, the message was strong and clear – never subtle, but it doesn’t need to be. At the end of the day, it is timeless, as relevant to today’s world as any other. And I suppose if it wasn’t, the National wouldn’t be programming it. The message is – in essence – that ‘everyman’ is selfish, and puts his wants and desires above good-deeds. The play asks whether it is only through death that we appreciate life – and tells us that regret is often the most prominent emotion of all at that time.
Chiwetel Ejiofor (of 12 years a Slave fame) gives an impressive performance as Everyman. The party-boy lad side of his personality is believable, his regret and fear sometimes a little less so. But we aren’t supposed to sympathise, we are supposed to recognise the flaws in the character so we can address them in ourselves.
The images throughout are strong, and demonstrative in a Brechtian way. After a slightly long and tedious opening party scene, we quickly learn to realise that it is the images that are important. This play isn’t about a story, character or individual performance. The play is just a message, and it is an important one. It isn’t subtle because it shouldn’t be, there isn’t time to be subtle. Seeing a personification of Good Deeds lying, sick and dying, on a bed of rubbish, is something that will stay with me for while.
We are all responsible for this world, and each other. Be kind, be generous, share your love with those who need it, and those who love you. Do what you can, whenever you can. And if you aren’t sure why – go and see Everyman!
Everyman will be at The Olivier Theatre from 29th April