Every One

Jo Clifford
Chris Goode & Company
Battersea Arts Centre

Angela Clerkin

Jo Clifford’s play Every One is a gentle magical story of one person’s death told by the person who died and their family. It is also about the way that family cope with the shock and grief of that death.

The show set in modern Britain opens with the family speaking conversationally to the audience. They are relaxed and amusing as they introduce themselves to us as if we were friends.

Mary (Angela Clerkin) is a mother and works as a tax collector. She regularly visits her own mother (Eileen Nicholls) in a nursing home. Her husband Joe (Michael Fenton Stevens) is urbane, warm and engaging, with an occasional self deprecating humour. He once taught classics which he can still quote entertainingly to Mary. He now teaches Modern studies and yearns for the world to be a fairer place.

Their children Kevin (Nick Finegan) and Mazz (Nicola Weston) seem little more than stereotypes. Kevin is almost always absorbed in computer games. His sister Mazz seems preoccupied with fashion.

Death comes to Mary as a stroke while she is ironing. Death also comes as a character (Nigel Barrett) who steps out of the audience to reassure her about what will follow before setting her on what we are meant to see as a joyful dance of celebration.

Each of the grieving family tells us how they will cope. Mazz will design better hospital gowns. Kevin will devise a computer program that will help in diagnosis. Joe has dreams about Mary dancing.

However not much happens in the show and what little that does happen lacks any dramatic tension.

We may be surprised that an easy-going and polite member of the audience turns out to be Death, but, apart from entertaining us with a funny story about God and Mary’s dance, he doesn’t add any drama to the story.

Early in the show Joe picks up a morning paper and is enraged at the number of people being killed in a storm which he angrily blames on the corrupt generals who rule that country. It is recognition that death is tied to inequality and injustice. But the idea is never developed. Instead the play’s overall tone and the words we hear are those that simply accept for every one death’s inevitability.

Joe Clifford has a compassionate view of the grieving process. The story is told with a fine at times lyrical command of language that creates a comforting and hopeful mood. There will be those who are greatly moved by what they see. But I suspect there will be others who will want something more substantial than a gentle end-of-life story.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna