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Surprisingly, for a play about depression, ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is filled to the brim with joy.
Duncan Macmillan’s beautiful, heart wrenching and very funny one-man script takes us into the mind of a son whose mum has tried to commit suicide. The first time she was taken to hospital, when he was six, he began to make a list of all the things he could think of, to try to remind her of the reasons she should want to stay alive: #2 Fresh air, #3 Burning Things, #3 Ice Cream, #4 Badgers. He continues adding to the list throughout his life, in-between trying to get her to read it, and the list gets longer and longer.
On a bare stage, Jonny Donahoe performs as the unnamed narrator with an open, frank charm and wit. The audience are an intrinsic part of this performance – Donahoe speaks out to us, gets us to join in and hands out bits of paper for people to read aloud at the right moments. Among others, we are called on to be a vet, the first love of his life, his dad and his school councillor.
It’s the collaboration that makes this show so engaging and so fun. The audience are invested in this story in which the highs and lows of depression are so honestly depicted. It’s a gentle study of a family affected by depression, from a father whose mood can be determined through the records he plays (heavy jazz – he’s best left alone) and through to the guilt the narrator feels about his mother’s actions.
It is sad, but it is also gloriously funny and exceptionally warm. It’s a show that spells out a little of what depression can do to people, but it also highlights the irrepressible resilience of the human spirit and the capacity to find delight in the everyday. ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ should certainly be on the list. Brilliant.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell