Ejiofor electrifies as death-bound ‘Everyman’ in London
LONDON – “Twelve Years a Slave” star Chiwetel Ejiofor goes from being the man who lost control of his life to slave traders to a coke-snorting high-flier who loses his life on his birthday in an engrossing update of the 500-year-old morality play “Everyman”.
In the reworking by Britain’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, which had its premiere on Wednesday at London’s National Theatre, the 15th-century work whose original creator is unknown, and has inspired numerous versions over the years, becomes a tale for our times.
Ejiofor’s “Ev” is a successful man-about-town and serial womaniser celebrating a 40th birthday that is to be his last in his penthouse flat with friends.
Kate Duchene plays God as a cleaning lady who as the play opens says she sweeps the floor before the parties and mops up afterwards.
Dermot Crowley is Death in a white jumpsuit who speaks in an Irish brogue and spurns Ev’s blandishments of cash to change his fate after delivering the bad news: Ev must die.
“I’m Death, God’s heavy, if you like,” Death tells a disbelieving Ev who is only convinced when he touches Death’s icy hand.
Death tells Ev he has only a short time to come up with the balance sheet of his life, to show God his good deeds to counter his sins and omissions.
Ev – who has not bothered to visit his aged parents in years, has cheated on his wives and does not give a toss about the planet, the poor or anything but his own hedonistic pursuit of women, wealth and luxury goods – realises it does not look good.
He tries to persuade his birthday guests to appear with him before God to plead his case, but they think he has lost it and leave. His parents are overjoyed when he pays them a rare visit but are stunned by his revelation of his impending fate.
“I met Death,” he says, to which his lesbian sister, played by Michelle Butterly, who has been caring for her elderly parents while Ev ignores them, retorts: “Namedropper.”
Ev’s only ally appears when he ends up sleeping on the street and meets Knowledge, played by Penny Layden. Ev begins to see himself for the selfish, thoughtless, uncaring and unfeeling person he has become.
There is no need for a “spoiler alert”; it is clear from the outset that Ev will die. But his road there is entertaining and thought-provoking, for example when a gold-suited quartet of purveyors of the luxury goods Ev covets spurns his entreaties to help him put his case to God.
“We don’t do souls, we do sales,” they say.
Ejiofor is convincing as the smooth operator who belatedly sees the light, but the entire cast is terrific and the production a strong debut for Rufus Norris, who this year replaced Nicholas Hytner as the National’s Artistic Director. – Reuters