Every Brilliant Thing (Tobacco Factory Theatres) ****

Every Brilliant Thing photo Michaela Bodlovic

Originally published on Reviews Hub

At the age of seven, a boy begins a list of all the things in the world that are brilliant to help combat his mother’s sadness: at number one, ice cream. As the years go by the list will grow; chocolate, skinny dipping, Christopher Walken’s hair, Christopher Walken’s voice, even “the feeling of calm that follows the realisation that, although you may be in a regrettable situation, there’s nothing you can do about it” (this last tongue-twister read out by yours truly, in a turn that would suggest not giving up the day job).

In Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing, this list becomes a crutch to help the boy who turns into a man through life, and he is played with such innocent openness and warmth by Jonny Donahoe there is no doubt we root for it to work. If this all sounds too sweet by half, a UK Amelie if you will, Macmillan ensures that it never turns saccharine; the list may act as a counterbalance to combat the darkness of the world but there is no guarantee that it is going to help see anyone through. The boy’s mother will still suffer from suicidal impulses; the boy himself will grow up and have his own black dog hovering over him. Life will be blighted by tragedy and tough times, pain and joy will intermingle, laughter and tears, this yin and yang is the only guarantee. There are lines that flash out at you in their perception: “if you have got all the way through life without ever being heart-crunchingly depressed, you probably haven’t been paying enough attention.”

It’s a show that fully knocks down the fourth wall and makes the audience as much a participant as Donahoe. Alongside the cards that each list one brilliant thing and that are voiced by the audience in a round cacophony of voices, there are also moments of gently-handled audience participation in George Perrin’s gently paced and sensitive production, where prominent figures in the boy’s life are handed over to different members of the audience. A vet, primary school counsellor, university tutor, lover and the boy’s father (who took the bull by the horns and completely ran away with the show) all get assigned over to certain members. It’s a sign of the warmth that has been created in the room that this never creates feelings of awkwardness or embarrassment for its audience.

The list eventually goes up to a million things. If this seems exceedingly long then you probably haven’t thought long and hard enough about all the everyday joy that comes from life; the smell of old books, the colour yellow, the realisation that someone else feels the same about you as you do about them. One more thing needs to be added to this list, though. Every Brilliant Thing deserves a place as a show that will raise a smile through any gloom. A lovely warm glow of a work.


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