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FringeReview UK 2015

Every Brilliant Thing

Paines Plough & Pentabus Theatre Company

Genre: Drama

Venue: The Old Market, Brighton


Low Down

A bold new play about depression and the lengths we will go to for those we love. Each show involves members of the audience, making each performance unique.

You’re six years old. Mum’s in hospital. Dad says she’s ‘done something stupid’. She finds it hard to be happy. So you start to make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world. Everything that’s worth living for. 1. Ice cream. 2. Water fights. 3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV. 4. The colour yellow. 5. Things with stripes. 6. Rollercoasters. 7. People falling over. 8. Spiderman. You leave it on her pillow. You know she’s read it because she’s corrected your spelling. Twenty years and thousands of entries later, the list will take on a life of its own.


This is a funny and charming show about depression. It involves a lot of audience participation and a very long list, and despite how odd that sounds, it is actually quite a poignant performance.

I haven’t seen a show done quite like this before. It is a one-man show, where all the other characters are played by the audience, who have been briefed before the show and handed out pieces of paper or small bits of ‘script’ that they are expected to relay when required. It is a bold idea for a show, as should people refuse there would be no performance, but of course people play along willingly, and the whole thing comes together extraordinarily well.

Early on we learn that the main character (played by Jonny Donahoe) has a mother who is sad, so sad in fact that she is in hospital because has ‘tried to do something stupid’, according to his Dad. To try and cheer her up, the boy begins to write a list of all the amazing things in the world, amongst them ‘staying up late past your bedtime and watching TV’, and ‘the colour yellow’.

The rest of the play is structured around the expansion of the list, into a collaborative behemoth that spans the decades. An interesting feature of the play is guessing at just how big this list will grow, and hearing the weird and wonderful things that got added to it.

It is an honest and touching story; hearing about the reality of a child who lived under the shadow of depression and suicide, yet whose happy memories of childhood and singing around the piano also loom large. However, the atmosphere is kept light by the constant interjection of ‘brilliant things’, and the giggling embarrassment of the audience members who are being asked to make unusual and spontaneous contributions.

The sole ‘professional’ performer is Jonny Donahoe, who has a seemingly boundless supply of energy, as he rushes around the stage, conducting his orchestra of characters. However, his manner at times comes across as that of a children’s TV presenter; his over pronunciation of words and hammy style grated on me slightly, and distanced me from the emotional power of the story. He played the comedy element of the show very well, but his delivery failed to convey the gravity and drama of the situation the character went through as a child.

That being said, the truth he managed to convey with his performance was such that I came out convinced that the story and writing was his. I was confused to see the writer, Duncan Macmillan on the flyer, and had to do some further research to check that this was in fact a work of fiction.

Overall this was quite a unique way of telling a story, which was well directed and well structured. Yet I felt that it was almost kept too light by the presentation and style of the piece, which shielded us unnecessarily from the pain of what was being discussed.