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Review: Chiwetel Ejiofor Stars in Everyman, National Theatre

21/05/2015 11:39 BST | Updated 20/05/2016 10:59 BST

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When people ask me for recommendations on shows to see, I nearly always reply with "well, what do you like?" Because theatre is always horses for courses. Maybe you like Shakespeare, maybe you don't. Maybe you like musicals, maybe you don't. There's something out there for everyone and personal choice, personal preferences, shape everything.

But then occasionally, just occasionally, a show comes along that is so exciting, so dynamic but so profoundly moving that, irrelevant of personal preference, I just say, "Go see this show."

Go see Everyman.

I fear the reputation of theatre as a dry, dusty environment where actors perform in front of a static, traditional set. Not that great productions don't come from such a set-up, but it doesn't attract new blood. And theatre needs new blood. And new blood comes when risks are taken and orthodoxy is challenged.

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And this production of Everyman has it all - the piece is electric but hits you like a truck. Whether it's the drug-fuelled raves to a Donna Summer soundtrack, the vivid production design that pulses with energy, or the moments of quiet reflection, Everyman is slick, bold and hangs together beautifully. And at the heart of it all, a stunning performance from Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor as Everyman.

The play is an allegory, a lesson to us all. Death has come for Everyman (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Not that he's sick or suffering. This is death out of the blue. A shock. There's going to be no growing old for Everyman, no slow, steady preparation for death. Inside, right here, right now, at the height of his wealth and good health, Everyman is going to have to make his reckoning with God.

Only Everyman is in no place to cut a good impression of himself. He is self-centred, too obsessed with the superficial and in denial about the responsibilities he has in life - responsibilities that can't be passed off with wads of cash, but ones that require love and commitment. So what to do? Well, when Death comes knocking, Everyman starts running.

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Everyman trawls through his friends and his estranged family, desperate to find evidence of a meaningful relationship in his life to offer up as proof of a good heart. He delves through his wallet, through his possessions, to find evidence of worth of any kind.

But by the end of this introspection Everyman is going to have to come to terms with what we all will have to do, no matter our loves and wealth, we are all going to have to face Death alone with nothing but our conscience and our soul.

Let's just take a moment here to eulogise over Chiwetel Ejiofor. His stagecraft is awesome. What a cliché this character could have been - an immoral, selfish, drug-addicted banker may not quite be every man but somehow Chiwetel brings out enough humanity and common ground that he really does become Everyman. He is us and we are him.

And Chiwetel gives everything in this role. Everything. His performance is so intense, so committed that the sweat pouring off his brow is practically palpable.

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Chiwetel is extraordinary, yes, but he is just one of many successful elements in this production.

Words, or rather the poetry, come from Poet Laureate Carol-Ann Duffy. Startling, funny and heart-breaking, Carol combines romantic verse with popular vernacular with ridiculous ease. So good and fresh is the text that you could easily be forgiven for not realising that Everyman was originally a 15th century play written in Tudor English. Carol has transformed it into something accessible and relevant.

And in this she is helped by an extraordinary thrilling production from Director Rufus Norris and a supporting cast that do it all - sing, dance, perform and move. And it's all so cool. I haven't wanted to be in a cast this bad since American Psycho at the Almeida.

Everyman is such an exciting, emotive production. I was both enthralled and moved. Really, I live for evenings like this, when theatre takes risks, leaps out from the ordinary and delivers that powerful one-two punch of electric dynamism and profound emotional impact.

So, just let me repeat this one more time...

Go see Everyman.

National Theatre, London to August 30, 2015

Image Credits:

1. Amy Griffiths - Goods, Chiwetel Ejiofor - Everyman, Adam Burton - Goods, Clemmie Sveaas - Goods. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

2. Penny Layden - Knowledge, Chiwetel Ejiofor - Everyman. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

3. A scene from Everyman - centre - Chiwetel Ejiofor - Everyman. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

4. Chiwetel Ejiofor - Everyman, Kate Duchêne - God. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.