Battersea Arts Centre, London (****)
A long time ago, Jo Clifford, then known as John Clifford became a stalwart of Scottish theatre. Now she has over 70 titles to her name – original plays, translations from the classics, opera libretti.
Much has happened to Clifford including the death of her wife, her own near death experience and not least transitioning from male to female. But in Every One, first staged six years ago in Edinburgh, it is the ordinariness of our human state that Clifford celebrates alongside the wonder and finality of death.
Every One has a double meaning – at one and the same time you, me, everyone in the audience. But it is also a reference to Everyman, the medieval morality play in which Everyman encounters the character of Death and is given a chance to survey his life before descending into final darkness.
Clifford’s Everyman though is Every woman – the beatific Mary, taken whilst doing the ironing. Every One confronts us with the fact of death, from Mary’s point of view, from those left behind – her husband, Joe, her daughter and son – and Death’s feelings towards we humans.
But it is not just the subject of coping with grief that makes Every One so searing and in every sense, a big, multi-layered play, both naturalistic and mythic.
Filtered through Clifford’s own experience of love and loss of his wife, his siting it within the nuclear family and the gentleness and quality of his writing endow it with an elegiac quality fuelled by unmistakeable anger.
Joe and Death both articulate fury at the systems that have made such a mess of human society. God lives somewhere in the background but it is Death who is the more benign and forgiving.
Chris Goode’s production, too, situated in Battersea’s Council Chamber, clamps us into the here and now inescapably, reminding us of the good men and women who have spoken here in the name of democracy.
Yet there is nothing grandiloquent or pompous, only an all encompassing compassion and sense of real life breaking through the silence of taboos.
Angela Clerkin with her unquenchable smile, Michael Fenton Stevens’ ordinary but intensely loving husband Latin teacher husband catch the heart as does the whole endeavour.
Beautiful and terrible and totally life-enhancing.
Every One is at BAC to March 16, 2016
Review first published in Reviewsgate, March 2016