Olivier Theatre, London
The opening moments of Rufus Norris’s Everyman feels very much like a follow-on to his Mumbai based Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Bhangra music blares out as a group of party-goers sashay onto the Olivier stage. Previously, Kate Duchêne’s Mrs Mop has been quietly working back and forth. Thus the production’s two book-ends: God as a charlady, cleaning up after human mess; contemporary hedonism in all its selfie grossness.
Norris’s production in this new version by Carol Ann Duffy is nothing if not of its time. Back projections, digital light shows, aerial descents (Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Everyman), we’re thrown into modern life with a vengeance with a 40th birthday party orgy of drink and drugs that goes on just a shade too long. Duffy’s text, too, often sets a coarse, obscenity filled tone but only as a reflection of what you can see and hear any day in British bars and pubs.
This, after all, is a morality play about Everyman – you and me, `who’s next?’ says Dermot Crowley’s winking Death in the closing lines – being forced to look into himself (ourselves) and make a reckoning of what this brief life on earth amounts to, a conscience pricker by any other name.
We’re destroying the earth. We’re selfish, envious, greedy, lust-filled, you name it. Duffy is particularly strong on mankind’s destruction of the planet. Norris conjures up a terrifying `immersive’ tsunami courtesy of a giant fan and video back projections. It would make the angels weep. Everyman, seeking companions to vouch for him is indeed reduced to tears. Visiting Friends, Family, Goods (a marvellous moment of gold-laméd shop dummies representing consumerism at its most garish), he finds them all wanting. Only Knowledge all but stays the course.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, as you might expect, brings stature and pathos to this journey of attempted redemption. In a godless, secular world, how do you turn a text born of belief into something meaningful to today? It may be ugly – as Duchêne’s impressive Godhead notes, `how all mankind grows worse from year to year’ – and this production reflects it. But I fancy Norris and Duffy are right on the button.
Runs in the Olivier, National Theatre, to Aug 30, 2015
First published in Reviewsgate, May 2015