Everyman is about one individual’s judgment day and the harrowing evaluation of his life’s work before God. Specifically whether as new custodian of the NT Rufus Norris can deliver a crowd-pleaser for the £15 Travelex punters (yes) and if it will get less critically mauled than his debut production Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (couldn’t do worse).

It is richly spectacular – from quiet beginnings of Kate Duchêne gloomily sweeping the enormous stage, there’s an explosion of kinetic energy from a video wall, a dazzling deus-ex-machina entrance of Everyman himself before we’re all invited to his maniacal coke-snorting 40th birthday party choreographed as though his life depended on it by Javier de Frutos and delivered with urgent enthusiasm by the excellent cast to a pumping soundtrack of Donna Summer at which Everyman falls not just from grace but from the penthouse balcony.

For a morality play in which the hero is a well-funded voluptuary whose life is measured in its relentless pursuit of spectacle, consumerism, easy laughs and surface pleasures the elephantine metaphor is how accurately Norris’s production mirrors his indulgence.

Bright shell, hollow centre: apart from the how-many-expletives-can-I-cram-in dialogue by Poet Fucking Laureate Carol Ann Fucking Duffy, the dumbed-down script feels written by a focus group: ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness so let’s make God … a cleaning lady’, ‘give Death a regional accent’, ‘make Everyman come from a mixed-race family and – ooh how daring – his father can have Alzheimer’s and his sister be a lesbian’.

12 Years A Slave’s Chiwetel Ejiofor is on excellent, engaging, spittle-spraying actorly form as ’Ev’ but it feels a statement casting rather like Adrian Lester as the first black Bobby in Sam Mendes’ Company, and his intriguing heritage lies as unexplored as his conscience.

You could literally get blown away by the technical effects – they turn a wind machine full of debris on the audience, there’s a wonderful moment when the ensemble forms a seething wall of rubbish. There is singing, there is rain, there is singing in the rain.

Dermot Crowley is terrific as the jaded Ulster-accented Death, the glorious Sharon D Clarke is almost unrecognizable as Everyman’s wig-wearing oxygen-snorting mum, but when she’s given her head sings ‘Stormy Weather’ like you’re hearing it for the first time. More of that and less time sweeping the stage could be even more thrilling.

 

On a very windswept South Bank terrace, @paulinlondon and I made our just-out-of-the-theatre AudioBoom

This review originally written for Londonist.com