Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Every Brilliant Thing returns to the Roundhouse at Summerhall, following their successful run there in 2014 and several UK and international tours. It was written by Duncan Macmillan, writer of award-winning play Lungs, and Jonny Donahoe (who also performs it).
After his mother’s first suicide attempt, seven year old Jonny starts to write a list of all the brilliant things in the world, all the things worth living for. It includes things like ice cream, the colour yellow, and being allowed to stay up late and watch TV. Every Brilliant Thing follows the story of Jonny’s attempts to cope with his mother’s depression and later his own, framed around the growth of the titular list as it reaches gargantuan lengths. As the list grows, it acquires more grown-up pleasures, like piglets, falling in love, and sex. While it is a solo show, there is a great deal of audience participation involved. Audience members are chosen to play various other characters in Jonny’s life, often with amusing results, or asked to read out items from the list of brilliant things throughout the show.
For a play about depression, it is very funny, and while the sad points stand out all the more in contrast to the happier moments, the humour stops things from getting too bleak. It proves to be an appealing way to discuss issues around depression and suicide, while being uplifting and life-affirming. There has been an increasing awareness in the past few years that depression and mental health issues need to be discussed more openly, and Every Brilliant Thing gives an honest portrayal of how depression looks and feels, both to the sufferer and to the children of depressed parents. The list of brilliant things may not be able to help Jonny or his mother, but it does inject some much-needed optimism into an otherwise gloomy subject.
Jonny Donahoe gives a winning performance, and is great at engaging with audience members in the more improvised sections. The staging is very simple. Few props are used, and many that are were borrowed from audience members, keeping it fresh and exciting. Jazz and blues music form part of the narrative and songs are played accordingly.
Every Brilliant Thing is an entertaining, amusing look at depression with a positive message. It is well presented, and an emotional rollercoaster (rollercoasters are brilliant thing number six) of a show.