From little things, brilliant things grow

Every Brilliant Thing (Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

March 8 – 11

It has been over a decade now since Oprah Winfrey advocated the power and pleasure of being grateful through use of a daily gratitude journal, listing five small things a day for which you are faithful may be rewarding. But why stop at five when there are a million brilliant little things in the world?

This is the realisation that results from experience of Duncan MacMillan’s “Every Brilliant Thing” which tells of its main character’s attempt to cope with his mother’s attempted suicide because ‘she finds it hard to be happy’, by developing a list of everything that is good in the world, as a way of offering hope to them both. 1. Ice Cream. 2. Kung Fu Movies. 3. Burning Things. 4. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out your nose 5. Construction cranes. It’s a random, unordered list (because how can you rank “Danger Mouse” above spaghetti bolognese) that reflects both the naivety and creativity of a seven-year old author whose pet dog is imaginatively named Ronnie Barker.

Dessert for dinner, sunrises, skinny dipping and piglets prove negligible to his mother, however, the list makes appearance throughout his life, firstly as a teenager and then at College upon meet of his later-wife Sam. As such the list becomes more about saving himself by rebalance of the powerlessness he feels.

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Obviously, creative work is inherently emotional as artists put their souls out for inspection which, in this instance, enriches audience engagement through its balance of sorrow and humour. And there is interesting revisit of music as a motif, particularly the joy that comes from the crackling authenticity of listening to songs on vinyl and reading the associated sleeve notes.

Performer James Rowland is absolutely endearing, however, played humbly in the round, ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ relies significantly on its audience through their gently-provoked provision of cue-carded list contributions and assumption of roles as the protagonist’s father, girlfriend, school teacher, lecturer and the veterinarian responsible for his first exposure to the idea of death. And on opening night, each role is embraced with enthusiasm and captivating commitment that only enhances the show’s appeal.

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“Every Brilliant Thing” is charming in its intimacy and so authentic as to leave audiences shocked that it is not autobiographical after all. While some may contend that its approach is a little lightweight in its buoyant delivery of the grim subject matter, ultimately the show is about so much more than just depression. Indeed, it is sure to touch audience hearts and minds as the leave with cherished consideration of all that their list would entail.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

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