As a statement of intent of what Norris intends to bring to the National Theatre during his tenure as Artistic Director, Everyman – his first directing role since taking over- could hardly have been more purposeful.
The bravura opening sequence that stretches from the studied simplicity of Kate Duchêne’s God to Chiwetel Ejiofor’s spectacular initial entrance marries energetic vitality to a clear eye for using the Olivier’s vast space to compose striking images. It is a breathless and hugely ambitious piece of staging that successfully draws the audience into the action from the off.
It feels like a mark of how the National Theatre stagnated towards the end of Nicolas Hytner’s tenure that one has to go back to Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein in 2011 (or, tellingly, Norris’ own direction of London Road in 2012) to find another play that so successfully combined powerful story-telling with making full use of the Olivier’s unique performance area to create a truly theatrical experience.
London Road – now a film – may well have done more than anything else to secure Norris the most coveted role in British theatre. The critically acclaimed production created a beautiful harmonisation between a visually spectacular design and a highly original approach to verbatim story-telling. The play took universal themes and pulled them inside out, seeking to give voice to those ignored by traditional genre plotting but who still have to live their lives at the epicentre of tragedy. Between Alecky Blythe’s dramatisation and Norris’ direction, the voices of regular people from a small corner of Britain were given as much weight as importance as Peter Morgan gave to the Queen in The Audience. London Road was not just a play but a thoughtful articulation on what a national theatre’s mandate could be.