Thursday, 16 July 2015

Everyman steps beyond

We finally got to see the NT production of Everyman on the South Bank this week. Tickets have been scarce and I had to book about three months ahead. Ironically, there was huge array of HD production vehicles and a large satellite dish parked alongside the theatre because there's to be a live broadcast version to cinemas around now.

The story is quite well-known; a 500-year old morality play about how Everyman (everyone) is called to their God by the agent of Death and judged by their good deeds. The Everyman in the play wants other allegorical supporters to speak in his favour, but Fellowship, Family, Material Goods and Knowledge won't play along. It goes a bit guilt-trippy Catholic after that, with Penance and Confession making appearances.

At least, it does in the original version.

This is a bangin' overhaul set in a clubby metropolis, where Everyman is having a big party for his 40th birthday accompanied by the longest line of cocaine it is possible to imagine.

Naturally - and no spoiler because it's the premise of the piece - there are consequences and a dry-witted Death appears complete with a police forensic outfit.

The modernised script has been written by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Chiwetel Ejiofor impressively plays Everyman.

There's some stabbingly good lines in this version, which has removed much of the religion and secularised many of the discussions, whilst keeping a clean version of a God in the mix.

We get more about how Everyman is spending the earth and the pervasiveness of materialism. The Judgement by Another has been largely removed although Death as an Agent inevitably persists.

It isn't supposed to be a realistic story, although I found the energetic Ejiofor character difficult to pinpoint. He's supposed to be hyper-rich in this modern take, starting out in a smooth-looking suit. His friends for his birthday bash don't quite carry the same haute couture and it's difficult to tell the doorman from the divine. But then, I suppose Everyman is also supposed to get stripped back to his essence?

Because it starts with Ejiofor living it really large, there's something of a challenge to balance a tone which already begins at a maximum volume.

And there's almost a life lesson, in that the original play would get the audience to think about their own condition and path through the world. This version emphasised the consumerism and perhaps became altogether more flighty as a consequence.

I'll put this into the 'Glad I've seen it' category.

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