Every time I visit the National Theatre, it feels like a pilgrimage. Returning to my theatre birthplace and owning my beloved Entry Pass, I’m blessed to witness miracles…until the age of 25. Thanks to the NT, their creative productions inspired my student self to seek new theatres across London, Surrey and even West Sussex. Living in ‘Sleepy’ Crawley, I’m always yearning to start a lively arts’ movement within this quiet town so I constantly return to the NT to receive the artist’s communion.
When a theatre announces the bookings for their latest season, there is a ridiculous sense of rush to purchase tickets amongst the theatre blogger community. Suddenly, your mind forgets your bank balance and “Who can tweet the fastest” occurs. Halting my temptation to fill my diary with just NT productions, I chose Everyman and The Beaux’ Stratagem (in July). Studying and loving Carol Ann Duffy’s portfolio, I knew Everyman was going to be a “safe” production…
“Everyman is successful, popular and riding high when Death comes calling. He is forced to abandon the life he has built and embark on a last, frantic search to recruit a friend, anyone, to speak in his defence. But Death is close behind, and time is running out”
Everyman, National Theatre, 2015
Being a born-again Christian, I am not afraid of death. So for a NT production to challenge the taboo surrounding death/judgement day and communicate the spiritual/ religious/ personal beliefs through an individual, who represents mankind as a whole…..I was intrigued. I also can’t forget to mention the fantastic cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Philip Martin Brown, Stephen Aintree, Dermot Crowley, Paul Bullion, Sharon D Clarke and Kate Duchêne (to name a few!)
On paper, Everyman is a depressing play, but Ejiofor’s spiritual deliverance whilst surrendering his character to a sudden death is simply brilliant. He portrays the rich sinner, who disbelieves and fears God, and pleads his friends, family and worldly goods to defend him. His frantic, desperate and deliberate suffering (walking on glass shards and whipping himself) tries to convince us that somehow he will be granted freedom and salvation. However, a play about death needs to have a death so Every Man’s tragic realisation that only he can “save” himself and accept his fate.
The moving scene was when Every Man and his fellowship were sitting on a wooden bench, reciting their final words as a police tent glides over them, sucking up the dead and leaving Every Man to face Death alone. The human hunt for soul is extremely poignant as Death is also on the chase. The personification of Death was fascinating. Crowley played Death with a disturbing yet comical twist. Teasing the audience with ”Eeny Meeny Miny Moe’, I squirmed in my seat.
I felt there were similar emotional experiences between Everyman and Royal Court’s How to Hold Your Breath – our needs distracted by our wants, the quest for survival, the spiritual awakening from life to death. Both indeed had tragic endings, but the drama stuns you out of the theatre with this ‘blink and think’. Also, can somebody explain to me what’s the fascination with having a cleaner on stage before the play starts? So far, Made in Dagenham and Everyman have forced an actor to perform zero-hour contract duties!
The rave was the only sore thumb scene. I was unconvinced with the F.R.I.E.N.D.S’ reunion, the random fits of laughter and drug snorts. Personally, I was unconvinced – it lacked a gritty, urban punch. The ‘high class’ actors pretending to know the ‘working class’ rough end digs. Movements and words blurred into this robotic structure and seemed like a drama class role play exercise. I classed this scene as a ‘write-off’- a typical boring beginning with a literal purpose to introduce the characters and the rock and roll lifestyle.
Everyman certainly made me revaluate and imagine what I would do in the face of death. Rip away all your worldly possessions, friendship groups, family, pets, job, bank balance, phones and even your theatre tickets, what are you left with?………….