Every Brilliant Thing

Here’s another review, this time of Every Brilliant Thing. Safe to say I adored this show with every inch of myself. Enjoy.

Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe presented by Paines Plough | The Continental, Preston | 15th September 2016

I’m going to begin by saying, this isn’t a proper review. It’s thoughts scribbled down into a notebook on the train home, put into some semblance of order. It’s what I got from Every Brilliant Thing. It’s a lot.

Johnny is six. His dad picks him up from school instead of his mum because she’s “in the hospital.” She’s “done something stupid.”

How do you deal with your mum’s suicide attempt when you’re six? You write a list of everything worth living for. Starting with ice cream. You forget about it for a while, then pick it back up when she tries again, and you’re in your late teens.

Based on true and untrue stories, Every Brilliant Thing takes you through the life of Jonny, dealing with his mum’s depression from the age of six to the present day.

There’s a beautiful naivety about the list. It’s a very childish thing to do. And the show itself is very simple – it’s a story, and it’s told very well.  Every Brilliant Thing was everything I love about theatre. It was honest and heartfelt and funny and poignant, and I know that no words I scribble onto this page on the train home could ever do it justice. But I’ll try.

The space was brightly lit. There was a buzz in the room, a good mood through the chatter in the air. Johnny – the performer – was working his way around the room, talking to everyone and handing out numbered pieces of paper.

“When I say your number, just read out what’s written down.”

There were about sixty of us, holding fragments of a list, ready to be involved. At different points in the story the audience were asked to play different roles in Johnny’s life. His lecturer, his primary school teacher, his fiancee, his dad. And the audience participation felt like a natural thing to be doing. It felt like the only way to progress the story.

There was a point in the show when Jonny played “Some Things Last a Long Time” by Daniel Johnston on the piano. It was the closest I came to crying in the entire thing. It was beautiful.

This show said a lot of things. It said it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to look for help. It’s okay to not know what to do, because none of us know what we’re doing at least half of the time. We’re just taking it how it comes, and sometimes we just have to stop and take a breath and scream. It’s okay to need other people, because we’re human. Everybody knows somebody with depression. Everybody has known someone affected by suicide. And it is so important to talk about things like this. Mental health and suicide and death and loss and how very lucky we are to have this life and everyone we have in it and how beautiful it all is.

After the show I went outside and sat with two of my friends who had also been in the audience. We didn’t talk. I needed a beer and a cigarette. I needed to be alone and listen to music and think. I needed a hug. Every Brilliant Thing was exactly the show I wanted, exactly the show I needed to see at that moment in time. Which, thinking about it, would have been true at any point in time.

Everyone needs to see this. Go with a friend. Talk to someone. Smile. Start looking for all the brilliant things that make your life so quintessentially, irrevocably, magnificently yours. You are worth every breath you breathe.


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