Theatre review: Everyman at the National Theatre

Production Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith
Jpeg 1. Chiwetel Ejiofor - Everyman

Production Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith Jpeg 1. Chiwetel Ejiofor - Everyman - Credit: Archant

This reimagined Medieval myth is a blast, says Miriam Gillinson.

Rufus Norris has entered the building. Everyman is Norris’ first show as director at The National Theatre and it might have been a fairly sedate affair. This 15th century myth is about a successful man who, moments before his death, is forced to re-consider his life before a final reckoning with God. It all sounds a tad earnest but in Norris’ hands, and with Carol Ann Duffty’s sparkling adaptation, it’s anything but. Everyman is a blast: a swirling, pulsing theatrical whirlwind of a night.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the Everyman of our tale; a man with a penchant for ‘pleasure, treasure and leisure’ and few real friends. The show opens on Everyman’s 40th birthday party – and it’s bang-out mental. Abstract video projections throb to the side of Ian McNeil’s cavernous dark set, the chorus gyrates frantically (forceful choreography from Javier DuFrutos) and booming music rattles the rafters. This is Everyman’s life and it is all colour, chaos, coke and empty come-downs.

But then the party ends and Ejiofor is visited by Death (Dermot Crowley), a twinkly toed Irish chap with a nasty glint in his eye. The show tumbles through a tidal wave of surreal scenes, as Everyman calls on his family, friends and vast wealth in a bid for salvation. There is a sad encounter with his family, a neon-splashed rave with his friends and a brilliantly bizarre encounter with some sneering, gold mannequins.

Ejiofor dazzles throughout. He sweats buckets and positively glows with effort and emotion. He’s incredibly nimble too and jumps from booming defiance to whispered sorrow in the blink of an eye.

There are moments when this morality tale feels a little, well, obvious. But Ann Duffy’s cheeky script is packed with cynical asides and never takes itself too seriously. As the end beckons, the show grows quiet and reflective. In one beautiful and delicate scene, Ejiofor’s Everyman quietly insists: ‘I have a soul!’ His loneliness and vulnerability breaks the heart, as Everyman faces the end of his life – as we all will - with only himself, his choices and his soul, for company and comfort.

Rating: 4/5 stars