Sometimes when you’re emotionally bound, you need to find that release. Whether it’s for entertainment, escapism, reflection or research, the theatre is a place where I can always find sanctuary. Reflecting on life can be dangerous though – the task is always a spiritually, cleansing exploration of our sands’ of time. I can’t exactly pinpoint what caused me to meditate on life. I’ve got a fantastic family, friends, career and many exciting opportunities. Since I returned to this spot on the South Bank, it was a place where I was going to give it all up and surrender my life to the River Thames many years ago.
Grateful for the determination to stick with it, I continue to shed happy and sad tears [insert confused emoji here] Like
walking boogying the plank, how amazing is my life right now.
This closeness to death does not depress or frighten me. On the contrary, it seems to heighten my appreciation of life. This, too, I wish to communicate.
Jo Clifford’s Every One came at the perfect timing. As a re-imagining of Everyman, the narrative sings the shackles of gospel and presents life and death on a set of balancing scales, except death soon topples. The National Theatre has already provided me with one interpretation here, but the Battersea Arts Centre shone a new glorifying light upon Everyman’s bones.
Every One centres around an average family with everyday concerns until the sudden death of mother and wife Mary, leaving her husband and two children to find their own ways of understanding and coping as she journeys into the afterlife.
Every One zapped the life out of my being and embalmed me with a calming sense of peace, acceptance and knowledge. Dispelling the imaginary fourth wall, Mary and her husband Joe introduced their family to the audience.
Smiling at the causal sit back, relax and watch set up, I fell in love with this normal family right from the beginning. Sticking to the facts, we learnt their names, occupations, likes and dislikes, financial situation and attitudes. Their full frontal monologues overlapped and entwined, stripping away politeness and admitting true thoughts and reactions towards one another. Rejecting dramatic body language, power and feeling were communicated through words and facial expressions.
Wanting to cringe at Mary and Joe’s affection, Angela Clerkin and Michael Fenton Stevens are the ultimate loveable and believable couple on stage. Who knew a tax collector and a Latin teacher could hit it off. Laughing at Joe waking up with “a hard on” and he hasn’t “had one of those for ages” [insert naughty wink here], this is the point where every son and daughter wants to hide in a darkened corner and rock themselves to sleep. Thank God their sexy time was expressed through words, not actions. Before death strikes, the comical interaction between these lovebirds tickles the Grim Reaper away.
The “bane of our lives” is Mary’s Mother, played by Eileen Nicholas. Confined to her wheelchair, she is your sweet little old granny, who drools and wets herself. Joking “I’m more alive than I ever was”, the audience are always relieved to see she’s still with us…except Joe. In Act 2, she gives the older generation a voice and literally stands up to relive the terrors of the Second World War. One powerful moment of reflection.
With a humourous high pitched and whiny voice, Nicola Weston pins her character Mazz on a lively mood board of a wannabe fashionista. Flicking through her beloved magazine, she introduces herself “I like fashion and magazines. And go out a lot.” She’s the typical teen girl, having the bravery to clash clothes and dash up the stairs late at night. With her rebellious undertones, it’s clear she loves her mum. Applying a touch of dopiness to make up the sad scenes, Mazz expresses her determination to pursue her career within fashion in honour of her mum.
Preferring the computer game world, Kevin’s hard drive is suddenly restarted as he witnesses his mother’s final moments. I guess you could say he’s the privileged one? With a slightly nerdy awkwardness, Nick Finegan provides Kevin with ‘I don’t wanna be in real world’ teen boy attitude. Once again, no piercing screams suck the air, just factual information of the day’s events and Kevin is “sitting there trying to look cool” for the ambulance ride.
With Mary and Joe’s comical banter gone, Nigel Barrett played Man in hope to restore the play’s ghosted humour. With a ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’ vibe, his quirkiness guides Mary on the road to
recovery death. Dressed in a smart black suit, his bold as brass character presents an informal waiting room – a chance for a general chit chat before off you pop. I enjoyed his terrifying dictatorship of the stage and his major rants and silliness towards humans and God.
To quote Mazz, “it wasn’t like death in the movies.” There were no great weeps or shunned silences. Paralysed and huddled into a corner of the stage, the family’s faces numbed and refused eye and body contact. Witnessing Joe cry drove emotion down the fast lane, his blank stare was eye watering. He would even refuse my bloody big cuddle.
My heart became like a fortune cookie. Clifford’s writing pressed upon a precious yet haunting memory, causing my soul to snap and reveal the ‘You’re going to cry’ message. It takes a hell lot of drama to make me tear up, but Every One wasn’t a play set out to turn on the waterworks. The play was a gentle reassurance, a comforting tribute and reality biter.
Watching Mary twirl with Death’s dancer and Joe pleading for his wife’s return, I began to grieve for this family I only met an hour ago. Although these characters are strangers, their emotions are our best friends. My mum dreamt of her mum (my nana) twirling up the staircase to heaven after her death so this moment was like drinking the purest water from the fountain of truth. Every One became confirmation that this specific imagery of eternal rest is also shared by others. It reduces the mad strangeness and replaces it with understanding and acceptance.
Every One emotionally wrecked me. Released onto Lavender Hill, I cried whilst smiling – what a weird outer body experience. It was like I had witnessed something so great, but it was so greatly upsetting. I had literally witnessed a sudden death onstage, but I was the one, who was granted the permission to continue with my life. I was able to leave that grieving family, who’ve just lost their mother and wife, and walk to the train station to curse at the delayed departure board. Then I wondered what stops me leaving this world like Mary did…I know it’s pretty deep…and depressing…but makes you face death without shyness, and relies upon the cheesy inspirational quote ‘don’t take your life for granted.’
The end….“It’s not just the end”
Book tickets for Every One here. Closes on 19 March.
Big thanks to Rosie Bauer from Mobius