Everyman

Performed in 1997 and reviewed by Marion Wynne-Davies, English, University of Dundee

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The JOOT Theatre Company is based in the English at Dundee and each year performs a Medieval play. In 1997 for example the chosen text was the morality play Everyman (c.1495-1518), a work unique in its economy of style and powerful thematic concentration. As such, the play is readily accessible to a twentieth century audience, who are used to the stark visions and minimal dialogue of modern drama, but at the same time Everyman offers us an unusual insight into the broad panoply of common life and the deep religious convictions of Medieval society. The dual interpretations of past and present came over particularly well in the settings chosen for the performance of the play.

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The cast took Everyman first to the Chaplaincy Centre at the University of Dundee, where the symbolic setting brought out the personified characters such as Death (Justin Anderson) and Knowledge (Juan Carlos Olmos Alcoy), but where the modern building simultaneously allowed other characters such as the Lusty Wenches (Diana Kiernander and Vicky Davison) and Goods (Kathryn Nelson) to have a more contemporary application. Subsequently, the play moved to St Andrews Church, St Andrews, which is a Victorian edifice, heavy with stained glass and solemn pillars; here the play renewed its direction, moving towards a more spiritual form in which God (Alvin Bennett) and Confession (Lisa M. Inglis) addressed an audience made up primarily of the actual congregation. Indeed, the religious tone was starkly underlined when the Rev. Bob Gillies took the part of the priest. Finally, the play drew even further back towards its Medieval roots when it was performed at St Andrews Castle, amid the ruined walls with a suitably wild sea as the backdrop. Suddenly, the whole play became darker, its prophecy more bleak, and it was here that Everyman (Robin Edwards) himself became the key figure, sat alone against an almost overwhelming grey world. Throughout the several performances the cast continued to develop and improve, responding to different audiences and settings along the way, encouraged and guided by the Director and Producer Jodi-Anne George.

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While all the cast deserve praise for their hard work and fine performances, several actors must be commended specifically, not only for their acting ability, but also because of the length of their parts. Indeed, without the powerful and sincere performance of Robin Edwards as Everyman the play could not have functioned; he took us from the drunken man to the broken penitent with total conviction. Justin Anderson has the quiet compelling presence necessary for Death and his sardonic tone affirmed that Everyman is a play of transition, moving towards a Marlovian fascination with oblivion.

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Juan Carlos Olmos Alcoy was a stern and authoritative Knowledge, towering over the prostrate Everyman to guide him in his need. The other characters had fewer lines and so, perhaps, do not get the deserved commendation greater space would allow, but Fiona J Johnston's easy and witty delivery of her lines as Fellowship and Fiona Robb's fragile Good Deeds were especially good.

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Of course, the cast always relies upon its production team and especially upon its director, here Jodi-Anne George; the careful blocking of a play staged in the round, as well as the coaching needed to deliver lines which are both intelligible to a modern audience while at the same time retaining the earlier poetic tone, must be particularly mentioned. In addition, the music, props, and publicity were all well executed. The costumes, oddly, changed at different venues, becoming more elaborate and more period driven; I must admit I rather liked the call-girl outfits of the Lusty Wenches and was sorry to see them retreat behind more authentic Medieval garb.

This performance of Everyman was the first I had seen; I enjoyed it greatly, but it also made me think about the play, which I had taught often, in a new light. The religious message came over far more strongly when confronted with actual presences, with physical embodiments of moral figures and social types. It made me realise too how important it is to allow our Medieval plays to be brought into the dramatic arena instead of closeting them away in dusty tomes.

 

CAST in order of appearance

Messenger		Kathryn Nelson
God				Alvin Bennett
Death			Justin Anderson
Everyman			Robin Edwards
Lusty Wenches	Diana Kiernander and Vicky Davison
Fellowship		Fiona J Johnston
Kindred			Diana Kiernander
Cousin			Vicky Davison
Goods			Kathryn Nelson
Good Deeds		Fiona Robb
Knowledge		Juan Carlos Olmos Alcoy
Confession		Lisa M Inglis
Beauty			Diane S Burns
Strength			Justin Anderson
Discretion			Fiona J Johnston
Five Wits			Lisa M Inglis
Angel			Elizabeth Robb/ Sarah Kimber
Doctor			Alvin Bennett

Director/Producer	J-A George
Assistant Director	Kathryn Nelson
Stage Manager	Kim Stringer
Costumes			Elizabeth Robb, J-A George, Kim Stringer and Cast
Props			J-A George and Kim Stringer
Publicity			J-A George and Kim Stringer
Organist			David Robb
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Video Recordings

  • A video recording of the 1997 production was made and would be suitable as a teaching tool; copies at £7.50 + p&p may be obtained, along with further information from Dr J-A George, email: J.A.George@dundee.ac.uk
  • Productions of Mankind (1999) and The Marriage of Wit and Wisdom (2000) have also been filmed for video sale (£7.50 + p&p). For details, contact: Dr J-A George,email: J.A.George@dundee.ac.uk