Entertainment & Arts

Everyman 'spectacle' opens at National Theatre

A scene from Everyman - Chiwetel Ejiofor Image copyright Richard Hubert Smith
Image caption Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Everyman, who faces death at his 40th birthday party

Everyman, the first play to be directed at the National Theatre by Rufus Norris since he took charge, has largely impressed the critics.

Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as coke-snorting hedonist who faces death on his 40th birthday.

Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy's reworking of the 15th-century morality play is described in one review as "a seductive spectacle".

Another, however, found it a "dumbed-down jumble".

Image copyright Richard Hubert Smith
Image caption Chiwetel Ejiofor (Everyman) meets a number of allegorical figures on his journey
Image copyright Richard Hubert Smith
Image caption Kate Duchene plays God as a cleaning lady

Norris's production features an impressive arsenal of stage effects including a giant video screen, suspended silver statues and a wind machine - along with energetic choreography by Javier de Frutos.

Kate Duchene plays God as a cleaning lady who opens the play sweeping the floor. The character of Death is played by Dermot Crowley as a dry-humoured Irishman.

Throughout the 100-minute drama, Ejiofor's character Ev meets an array of allegorical characters as he assesses his past life.

Image copyright Richard Hubert Smith
Image caption Everyman meets Death (Dermot Crowley)
Image copyright Richard Hubert Smith
Image caption Everyman runs at the National's Olivier Theatre until 30 August

After Wednesday's opening night at the Olivier Theatre, Reuters entertainment editor Michael Roddy described Everyman as "a strong debut for Rufus Norris".

"Ejiofor is convincing as the smooth operator who belatedly sees the light, but the entire cast is terrific," he said.

In his four-star review, Whatsonstage.com's Michael Coveney wrote: "Ejiofor is a commanding, sympathetic presence in the middle of this energetic and seductive spectacle."

In the Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish struck a note of caution. "It sounds a little worthy, a touch dull. Is it? Well no. But if anything it swings so far in the direction of looking and sounding with-it and hip that it commits the sin of appearing at once theatrically lavish and dramatically threadbare."

'Foul-mouthed'

"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," said the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts.

"Dame Carol, weak with rhyme, strains for topicality. She gives us references to footballers, pop stars, even to a colostomy bag worn by 'Sir Cliff'. She may say this is in the spirit of medieval jauntiness. It felt to me more like desperation."

But The Arts Desk's Marianka Swain felt Everyman was a clear signal of intent from Norris: "an overt state-of-the-nation play" for the National Theatre.

"Magnetic Ejiofor provides a much-needed focus for the episodic structure. His sonorous delivery of Duffy's lyrical passages is exquisite, offset by powerful physicality," she said.

"Offbeat but traditional, theatrical but heartfelt, it's a triumphant night," concluded Libby Purves on her theatreCat.com blog.

Everyman runs at the National Theatre until 30 August and will broadcast in UK cinemas on 16 July

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