Originating in the fifteenth century as a relatively simplistic moral message, Duffy’s new adaptation maintains the medieval integrity of the piece, whilst incorporating into Everyman something that every-modern-man could relate to.
From the outset, it is clearly an ensemble piece. At the risk of sounding trite, the company really did incorporate ‘everyman’, embodying a variety of shape, size, colour and creed; yet this diversity became irrelevant when the hugely energetic physical theatre sequences kicked off this Saturday night party. As a collective, the movement was fast-paced and cocaine-induced, yet perfectly coordinated, bringing the scene to life without having to verbalise a thing. This keen use of physicality allowed the spoken words to be selectively chosen, as only a laureate can, creating beautifully skilled, yet never laboured, rhymes.
Alongside this balletic chaos in the opening scene and in accordance with the large-scale, projected images of the eponymous character’s life flashing before his eyes, this piece made innovative use of a variety of mediums. Actors and props became interchangeable: as an army of mannequins hung suspended above the stage, four ‘alive’ mannequins strutted around, heartlessly and cruelly personifying the fleeting, selfish attitude of our society’s tireless consumerism. Whilst still quite blatantly didactic, this scene came as a welcome tangent from the message of the piece as a whole.
At his lowest ebb, Everyman found himself in a landfill site, brought to life by a Mighty Boosh-esque conga line of giant bin bag creatures. Moves like this reminded the audience that, whilst pushing a clear moral message, medieval theatre was heavily focussed on comedy and entertainment value.
Quite contrastingly, the belting voice of Everyman’s mother sung out at the point when ‘Ev’ and his troupe finally accepted their demise. A chilling atmosphere was evoked as the chorus joined in song, acutely aware of the doom that had been impending from the start.
This dichotomy between seriousness and frivolity was perfectly matched in the figures of God and Death. God, a humble, servile cleaning lady, had equally balanced bitterness and benevolence as she cleared up everyones’ messes time and again. Meanwhile, Death wore a boiler suit and a cheeky be-flamed beanie hat, as the Irish cheeky-chappy relished his work.
Sadly there was no ‘get out of jail free’ card for Everyman, as his first entrance showed him plummet from the flies into a pit embedded on the stage. All further entrances and exits came from below, clarifying the inevitable demise of this character, who the audience had successfully warmed to as the play progressed.
As I said, this piece was championed by its use of the entire company; yet as they each personified an attribute of the lead character, and all ‘mysteriously’ disappeared from beside him at his death, in a looming crime scene tent, kudos must be given to Chiwetel Ejiofor for his tireless soul searching throughout. He was dismissive and deeply emotive in equal parts as he finally came to the realisation that the search for the self can only come as a collective; selfishness clearly can’t win in life or in the theatre, as this piece triumphantly proves.