Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Theatre review: Every Brilliant Thing

Having toured the world but, in true Paines Plough style, largely avoided London, Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing takes up residence at Richmond’s Orange Tree, with the play’s co-writer and original performer still at the helm: Jonny Donahoe tells a story billed as being based on “true and untrue events,” about a child’s coping mechanism when his mother attempts suicide, that remains part of his life well into adulthood. Aged 7, and with his only previous experience of mortality being the death of the family dog, he’s unable to understand what would make his mother try to kill herself. He begins writing a list of every brilliant thing in the world worth living for, in the hope that it’ll help her. It can’t, of course, but regardless of how many times he outgrows it, the list ends up becoming a constant and comfort in his own life, even playing a part in how he meets his wife.

As a light-hearted approach to the topic of depression and suicide, Every Brilliant Thing straddles a line between genuine sadness and respect for its subject matter, and a life-affirming celebration of everything that is its opposite, and manages it through charm and remnants of a childlike wonder, even when reality tries to crush it.


But probably what makes it best avoid mawkishness is the way George Perrin’s production becomes a communal experience. Probably a third of the audience, throughout the auditorium, get involved by being given scraps of paper with a number and one of the brilliant things written on it; when Donahoe calls out the number, the audience member reads out what they’ve been given (mine was “track 7 on every great record.”) Some of us ended up with more audience participation than that – I got drafted to play “Dad,” which is all well and good until you have to make a wedding speech.


The play wears its serious subject matter lightly, never really attempting to understand the reasons – because as I can tell you myself, this isn’t the kind of question that has answers. It remains respectful though, and bundles its melancholy message in the kind of memorable evening that brings a whole audience together.

Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmilland with Jonny Donahoe is booking until the 28th of October at the Orange Tree Theatre (returns only.)

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic.

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