Everyman, or originally The Summoning of Everyman, is a 15th century morality play that focuses on Christian salvation, and what man must accomplish in life in order to attain it. The Everyman of the play – who represents all mankind – is called to account for his life, its balance of good versus evil, as death becomes imminent.
The play has been adapted for the National Theatre by the poet Carol Ann Duffy, with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Everyman. This modern day adaptation is impressive, and with Duffy’s pen – enhanced too by the wonderful direction and cast – the central themes originally presented more than five centuries ago continue to resonate loudly.

Death
I’ll find an Everyman
most typical of one who’s squandered his God-given time
on pleasure, treasure, leisure, etcetera. The world is full of them…

Issues around mortality – how to avoid death, the fact of it and also talking about it, and our desperation to prolong life at any cost – seem more critical and unresolved today. Yet, the fact of mortality remains unchanged several hundred years later.

Death
I spare no living man. Why act as though
you are immortal and I’ll never show?

But what has grown exponentially over time is our materialism, and with it a sense of entitlement and an entrenched – and irrational – belief that anything can be bought, including life itself.

Everyman
I’ll pay whatever you ask.
I’m loaded! I’m successful!
Name your price.

Everyman
I only have one life!
It’s not my time!

Death
Only on loan, my son, only on loan.

Everyman seeks help from friends, desperate for affirmation of his life and its value. He approaches his hitherto abandoned family – ‘We thought you’d forgotten where we lived’ – but it proves too late to undo deeds that had catalogued a self-centred life.
He turns to Worldly Goods:
‘How can God know me
if God cannot see my riches?’

Ultimately, Everyman realises the futility of his desperation. It is too late, the Day of Reckoning approaches and he cannot relive an ill-spent life.

Everyman
But I let Good Deeds leave my house of life
and walk the streets, unnourished, unprotected.

Good Deeds asks the essential question that underpins the play:

What does it mean to you
to be a human being?

The fear that Death inspires is almost palpable. It is hard not to feel for Everyman’s plight, which is also essentially ours, as he reflects on his life in reverse, marked by achievements that are ultimately ego-driven and meaningless.

Everyman is surprisingly funny (‘I’m Death. God’s Heavy, if you like’), wonderfully choreographed, and very much an alive and dynamic piece. Captivating, it leaves much to consider.

Death, predictably, has the final say:

Eenie meenie miney mo…
Who’s next?

CQ

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