A medieval morality play. Doesn’t that sound appealing? No? Throw in a rewrite by Carol Ann Duffy, and a lead actor in the form of Chiwetel Ejiofor of 12 Years A Slave and you might be a little more tempted. I arrived with little recollection of the synopsis I’d read months beforehand, but it was in a theatre so I was happy.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Shakespearian style rhyming couplets? Characters based on abstract concepts that I couldn’t understand? A moral message partially lost on me after a cocktail?
It was, quite simply, brilliant.
Everyman is living the life of Riley, taking the words of WC Fields – “I spent half my money on gambling, alcohol and wild women. The other half I wasted”. And money he has, in abundance. Except on the eve of a drug fuelled birthday bash, God, and Death, catch Everyman unawares.
The moral message is simple. Everyman searches to give an account of all he has done in the wake of dying. His friends who have enjoyed the fruits of his expenditure and profess to love him refuse to foray into death with him. His family, neglected and ignored, have always been there for Everyman. While he lived the high life and is adored, his ever-present sister bears the brunt of the care and duty. Everyman’s family protect him, offer to sacrifice themselves in his place, but ultimately only Everyman can answer the knock of death.
Money, of which Everyman has plenty, can’t buy him his way into heaven or out of death. The lure of shops lose their sparkle as soon as Everyman’s money is gone. His few token good deeds aren’t good enough, and even further kindnesses don’t warrant God’s ultimate approval.
Knowledge, vanity, sight, strength – what do you prize most highly? Perhaps success, achievement, children? And there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these. Until they become our idols. The ‘senses and wits’ on which we pin our worldly understandings and hopes, but which are no heavenly use in the end.
What Everyman comes to realise, is that nothing, not even good deeds, can save him from death and he can never account well enough for the life he has lived.
But I wonder if the original play had a fundamental message that was missing from this one.
If none of these things can save us from death, what is the point?
The Everyman character of God was like a worn out parent, heartily fed up of the exhausting, rebellious child but loving it nonetheless because it kind of has to; it’s its parent. But God, as Everyman realises, cannot be comprehended by the human mind. This is why God is God, and I am not. Unconditional love and sacrifice aren’t my standard reactions. Fortunately they are His.
It’s why a perfect Jesus died on a cross. Remember those 3D glasses from cereal packets? The picture on the back of the packet looked like a sea of swirls and squiggles, until you put the glasses on, when all became clear. And God views us through the lens of Jesus; all the sin and selfishness is removed, no amount of good deeds, money, family and friends will suffice. You have to change the lens, and only one will work; that is the point.
The acting was pure brilliance, the humour dry, the language choice. If you have the opportunity to go, take it. Accessible for every man; the play, but rather more importantly, Jesus.