Everyman, Everyman - you are a foxy little minx of a play. Odd words to begin a piece about what is usually described as a somber play, a solemn play, a play that is - basically - about death. But to me, as performer of the text, it is a foxy little minx, because it is teasing me with possibilities.
Now, before I go on let me just warn you about spoilers. I know, this isn't the latest series of Homeland or something similar, this is a five hundred year old play, but the staging of it will be revealed in some detail throughout the next couple of months. Or the possible staging - some of the ideas mooted here will be dropped or changed, but probably not all that many. So, if you want to be surprised, stop reading now.
Also, if you want to see the show, book now. I don't mean this in the usual "please book tickets to validate my life/cover my expenses" way, but in the "I've had to reduce the number of seats available and the show will probably sell out" kind of way. At present my artistic side is doing battle with my business side, and the art is winning. I have yet to measure precisely how many seats I will be able to sell, but it isn't going to be many. If you listen carefully, you can hear my wallet screaming.
So, onto the play. The Summoning of Everyman has been on the to do list for years. It has everything I love about an old play - it's simple, it has few characters, it's short. And it has a cameo appearance for Death, always welcome in any play. You just can't fail with Death, the dialogue is always cracking - just ask Terry Pratchett. But it also is a trixy play. It looks like it is simple, but actually it gets a bit complicated towards the end, all these extra characters appear, and how do you make it connect to people today? Sure, death is a universal theme, but the play is explicitly Catholic in doctrine, medieval Catholicism to be precise - so there are elements of the play that are alien to us today, even to Catholics. (Everyman does scourge himself at one point, it's the kind of thing most churches have quietly dropped.)
I've spent years trying to find a route into the text, a way of performing it. And last year, I found it. I was in the middle of rehearsing Ghost Storyteller and I wanted a break. I needed to do text work, but needed to get away from that text. So, I picked up Everyman and started to read it aloud. It is a brilliant text, it almost works as an epic poem, if it wasn't for some of the more fiddly bits. But as I read it, I imagined what it would be like if I was performing it, not just to an audience of many, but to an individual. If I took someone by the hand and said, they were the character Fellowship, say. That I talked to them as Everyman, and spoke out as Fellowship to a bigger audience. That way I could not only make it clear to the audience who all the characters were - there would physically be a person there - but also keep the humanity of it by talking to someone; that this connection would not just be a way of performing a multi-person play as a one person play, but be something that took the play further; that made the play moving and direct in a way that a normal production could not. I had my hook - this is to be an immersive piece of theatre, interactive.
There will be four layers to the interactivity... as it were.
Firstly, the space will be arranged in traverse, that is the audience will be on two sides facing each other. The performance area will be a thin catwalk between them. At no point will the audience be able to escape the reality of the rest of the audience.
Secondly, I will ask the audience to help with something simple, something they can do as they enter the space, something that doesn't worry them. I'm not sure what this is yet, but it won't be complicated or performed as theatre, it will be something personal. I don't want this act make people afraid to come, if you just want to sit and watch that will be fine, but it would be nice to find something non-invasive that everyone can do.
Thirdly, I will invite a few people (volunteers) to stand and be acknowledged by the room to be a character in the play. Literally all they will be asked to do is stand, when asked to, and I will talk to them. And then sit down again. This is for the less faint of heart.
Fourthly, I will invite a few people (again volunteers) to be guided by me, to be moved through the space, to sit and even (in one case) lie down on some cushions. This will be for the enthusiastic and bendable members of the audience.
There is always a slight risk that no one will agree to do the third or fourth actions. This would be a shame, but I have got a plan B. But if you come to the show and are willing to give to it, then it will be ten times the show it would be if you didn't. As it were.
So, Everyman, you foxy little minx, what else have you got for me?
NEXT BLOG: Introductions, Dancing and the performance of God in the play.