Reflection: Everyman adapted by Carol Ann Duffy

A few years ago I worked with a student of mine on a musical adaptation of Everyman. This story has been important to English drama, theatre and storytelling since the late Middle Ages. It asks viewers to consider their own mortality, and to determine whether they have lead a good life, and by what standards do they measure that goodness. Although Duffy’s adaptation dates from 2015, and my student’s adaptation from early 2016, it strikes me that this story is ready for another, less compromising, revisit.

I am not a spiritual person, however the questions of what it is to live a “good” life are still questions with which I grapple, with greater and lesser success, coherence, and integrity, on a day to day basis. For myself, I am a deeply flawed human being and, if there is a heaven I am by no means certain of getting there. I try to live by Mary Shelley’s advice in Frankenstein which I paraphrase as “Live, be happy, make others so.” More broadly speaking, however, I have seen my family change since 2016, and this has been symbolically, for me at least, helixes with the changes in the broader world. Bear in mind, I am a reader, so I will look for narrative patterns, and I am a narcissist, so I will shape those patterns around my own stories. My family has seen endings and new beginnings: my niece and nephew were born, another is on the way, my grandmother passed away, my father is being treated for cancer. Life and death dance together. I feel like I am in the middle of this dance, standing still, not contributing, not growing, just getting in the way and hoping I can learn the steps before the song ends. Everyman is a play that reminds me that i just need to get on with it, i need to start dancing. I usually love Duffy’s writing, although in this adaptation I found it stilted, and forced. I’m sure that spoken aloud it would be more vibrant, and reviews of the 2015 production support this idea. But post 2016, post Brexit and Trump, post Manus and Nauru and Syria and truth, post #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo how might this story be reimagined to confront viewers? The idea of certainty and truth in our world is as fragile as it was in the late 1400s: in many ways we have not learned. But if we start asking what is a “good life” then perhaps we can also start applying that life to our day to day. What does it mean to you to live a “good life”? How are you doing that?

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