In a year which sees a healthy dose of A-List film stars appearing on the London stage, it seems an intriguing choice for BAFTA Award winner Chiwetel Ejiofor to return to the boards in the title role of Everyman, in a new adaptation by Carol Ann Duffy. This marks the actor's first major stage role since starring as Patrice Lumumba in the Young Vic's A Season in the Congo, and his Olivier Award-winning performance as Othello at the Donmar Warehouse before that in 2007, which I can imagine were much more rewarding challenges for Ejiofor as an actor.
Everyman has a running length of approximately 1 hour 45 minutes, with no interval, and for about 1 hour 30 minutes of that, the lead character finds himself in a heightened state of emotion (mostly desperation). There seemed to be little room for light and shade or depth to the character, until the final scenes in which 'Ev' predictably comes to terms with his own mortality and the worth of his soul. It is here where Ejiofor shines and draws each audience member in. If only he had been given more opportunity to showcase his undeniable talents.
The medieval tale is crystal clear from the first ten minutes of the piece and we suspect that we are not going to witness any earth-shattering revelations over the course of the evening, however it is in Rufus Norris' direction that the talented ensemble comes together to create a theatrical delight. Marvellously abstract, the production is a treat for the senses. Special mentions should go to Javier De Frutos' frantic and intertwining choreography, Tal Rosner's colour-infused, disorientating video design and to William Lyons, who created the music for Everyman. The latter retains motifs of medieval melodies, but is heavily infused with electronic music and modern day samples, linking the origins and modern setting of the play effectively. These elements combine to create a very memorable evening and a brave choice for Norris' first gig as director during his first National Theatre tenure.
Although the production elements may alienate by nature, the themes explored in Everyman are so common and universal, it would be difficult not to identify with at least one of the scenes during Ev's journey. At the end of the day, this is also the show's main appeal - we can appreciate the almost Brechtian art form as seasoned theatregoers, but we can also be moved in spite of this to evaluate our own misguidances on the paths we have taken.
"It’s an admirable effort, with industrious, multi-tasking support from an ensemble of 22, but is it, finally, a play for today? It induces shivers as a memento mori, possesses a rare metaphysical curiosity too but the best plays today tend to have more to chew on."
Dominic Cavendish for The Daily Telegraph
"... virtuosic production that captures both the frantic dizziness of a money-driven world and the beckoning finality of death."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Foul-mouthed, moralistic, atheistic, theatrical; the first big production from the new regime at the Royal National Theatre grabs your attention but it is also a dumbed-down jumble."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"As a vision of the battle between the soul and the world, Everyman isn’t revelatory. But as a statement of intent from Norris it’s bold."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard