Eileen Nicholas in 'Every One' at Battersea Arts Centre.
The cast of 'Every One' at Battersea Arts Centre.
Angela Clerkin and Michael Fenton Stevens in 'Every One' at Battersea Arts Centre.
Michael Fenton Stevens, Nicola Weston, and Nick Finegan in 'Every One' at Battersea Arts Centre.
This pared-down revival of Jo Clifford's play is a low-key tearjerker.
Mary is nothing special. In fact, she's happy to tell us so. But that doesn't stop Jo Clifford's play centring firmly on her, an unremarkable tax administrator who's doing the ironing when she suffers from a stroke. The story of her extraordinarily ordinary death gets a pared down production from director Chris Goode that hammers home Clifford's message: these horrors can, and will, happen to us.
Mary, her husband, her two teenage children and their grandmother talk to the audience directly, describing their experiences with a level of awkward candour that makes it feel like a real, slightly boring family are embarking on bereavement-awareness lecture tour. But as the reality-show fascination wanes, Clifford's text starts to show itself for the complex, multilayered beast it really is.
She's been loosely inspired by the 15th century morality play Everyman, a text that explores the journey that takes place after death in a firmly Christian context of good and evil. Here, the morality is less clearcut. Mary is taken by Death - a genial, booming Nigel Barrett wearing not-quite-matching black velvet. Unlike his 15th century predecessor, he makes no mention of sin or virtue. He's an ambiguous figure - a friend, but still a threat. As he leads Mary on her voyage, her family are left behind, still ordinary, without the moral or emotional tools to bridge the vast and widening gulf that's grown between her and them.
The wonders of hospitals, mobile phones, street lamps and secular morality have shone a light into some of the terrors that left our forefathers in a cold sweat. But death is still terrifying, and even the compassionate clarity of this performance can't shield us from that. It's call-your-Mum, text-your-friends, feel-guilty-about-your-grandma theatre. And just like a real family, the strained bonds between its performers swell and vibrate until they're big enough to touch every one of the people that surround them.