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Review: Chiwetel Ejiofor in Everyman, National Theatre


We can sigh with relief having seen Everyman at the National Theatre. It is the second play in Rufus Norris's inaugural season as artistic director (and the first he directs) and it is very much the 'Norris' I was hoping for when it was announced he was taking over from Nicholas Hytner. The first play of the season - Light Shining in Buckinghamshire which I saw two nights earlier - failed to make its mark, in fact I abandoned it at the interval* but more of that later.

Everyman is a completely different beast. The 15th century morality play has been given a modern setting and a new contemporary script by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. It is a linear and simple plot structure: Everyman (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is successful, popular, works hard and plays hard but God is unhappy with how mankind is behaving and chooses Everyman to teach a lesson.

Death visits Everyman to tell him his number is up and that he's been called to a reckoning with God setting him on a journey to find some way of justifying himself and his lifestyle.

Being based on a morality play you can see how this will pan out but it is a hell of a journey on the way, in one sense for Everyman and in the other for the audience.

From the opening sequence when Everyman falls to earth and straight into a hedonistic celebration of his 40th birthday - you can tick off a good handful of the seven deadly sins - you know this isn't going to be a staid and reverential production.

In fact this is a production full of piss, puke, sweat and swearing, where the actors come to the front of the stage and stare you down. God is a cleaner, Death (Dermot Crowley) is a remorseless and dry Irishman and Good Deeds (Kate Duchene) is a bag lady living in a shopping trolley. It is a production which is vivid in its execution, bursting off the stage with such energy, imagination and dark humour.

If Light Shining was commissioned to keep the traditional National Theatre audience happy then Everyman sticks two fingers to them; @_gabriellasf said a gentleman upped and left her row during the opening party scene when the 'cocaine' came out.

The imagination and inventiveness is just what I was looking for. And while this is a play that feels all about the journey, rather than the destination, it is a smile inducing and wondrous journey. Chiwetel Ejiofor was bathed in sweat 10 minutes in, Norris certainly makes him work hard for his long awaited return to the stage.

Everyman runs in rep on the Olivier Stage at the National Theatre until August 30 and is one hour and forty minutes long without an interval.

* I haven't written anything, yet, about Light Shining but I think the West End Whingers pretty much sum up my feelings - they ducked out at the interval too.


Michael Grandage directed Chiwetel as Othello at the Donmar in 2008 and he's also directed Mr W - Peter and Alice.