Every Brilliant Thing

Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe’s Every Brilliant Thing (which first came to the Fringe in 2014) has the largest cast you’ve ever seen for a one man show. By casting audience members as the significant figures who populate the life of the protagonist (Donahoe) this touching and astonishingly funny show about depression and suicide becomes a generous and communal healing experience.

Donahoe’s improvisatory flair and touchingly genuine gratitude extinguishes the reservations that normally linger around audience participation

The show has the kind of wide-angle temporal scope characteristic of MacMillan’s previous work. Initially prompted by his mother’s first suicide attempt at the age of seven, the protagonist starts to compile a list of all the “brilliant things” in the world (e.g No.321: when you laugh so hard you shoot milk out your nose; 1006: surprises). When, throughout his teenage and adult years, he too begins to suffer from depressive tendencies, this ever-growing list becomes a vital therapeutic tool.

The in-the-round Roundabout is fiendishly tricky to navigate, yet Donahoe and director George Perrin exploit it with majestic ingenuity, drawing the audience from all sides into the piece. By giving list entries to individual audience members to call out when their number is called, they create a unique and electrifying surround-sound sort of experience. Donahoe is the perfect frontman for this endeavour: earnest, hilarious and charismatic- variously a storyteller, group leader and a kind of bingo announcer- we feel entirely at ease in his presence.

In fact, it is a testament to the genial atmosphere that Donahoe creates that the audience take to their (at times challenging) roles with such goodwill and aplomb. They are required, variously, to put down an imaginary dog, make a wedding speech and perform therapy with a sock puppet, yet Donahoe’s improvisatory flair and touchingly genuine gratitude for our participation extinguishes the reservations that normally linger around audience participation.

The show perhaps lacks the intellectual depth that makes MacMillan’s best work really soar and the presiding sense of zany sentimentalism and whimsy may prove sickly for some. While the ‘list’ element provides the show with a useful structural backbone, there are moments when it lingers dangerously close to gimmickry. However, this is affirming and well-crafted stuff from a talented team.

Reviews by Joe Spence

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★★★★
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★★★★
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★★★
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★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

The worldwide smash-hit is back. You’re six years old. Mum’s in hospital. Dad says she’s done something stupid. She finds it hard to be happy. You make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world. Everything worth living for. 1. Ice Cream 2. Kung Fu Movies 3. Burning Things 4. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out your nose 5. Construction cranes 6. Me A play about depression and the lengths we go to for those we love. “Heart-wrenching, hilarious… possibly one of the funniest plays you will ever see” **** The Guardian