Every Brilliant Thing

Duncan Macmillan
Barrow Street Theatre, New York

Jonny Donahoe Credit: Phoebe Cheong

Those that raved over Every Brilliant Thing when it played in the Roundabout at Summerhall might subsequently have wondered whether the show was a beneficiary of the Edinburgh effect.

This consists of a temporary lack of judgement as a result of which performances seem far stronger than they would anywhere else.

A New York audience soon confirmed that this is as strong a piece as it had originally seemed and loses nothing in translation.

The fresh-faced Jonny Donahoe plays up his Englishness over the pond but otherwise, give or take the odd script improvement, nothing has been compromised for an appreciative new audience.

Every Brilliant Thing is a deceptive play in many ways. What starts out as a light-hearted comedy about an obsessive 7-year-old boy, whose name is never divulged, swiftly becomes much darker and considerably more sophisticated.

The youngster starts to list out a few of his favourite things, starting with ice cream but his enthusiasms soon get out of hand, as he targets a longer and longer list.

What should be comedy is swiftly subverted when we learn that this is a kind of personal therapy to assist with the difficulties caused by his mother’s attempted suicide.

The audience gets heavily involved, delivering many of the items on the list and playing unnamed’s teacher, father and even the family vet. Best of all, the possibly planted Sasha becomes Sam, unnamed’s girlfriend and eventually wife.

Before that, we follow the lad’s reaction to Mother’s issues and his own, explored and explained in moving detail.

School is followed by university, marriage, separation and more as a great deal happens in only 70 minutes. In effect, a life unfolds before our eyes and the problem of depression given a sensitive airing.

The script and delivery are now pitch perfect, which is a tribute to writer, performer and director, Paines Plough’s George Perrin.

This is one of those rare works where it is safe to say that a large proportion of visitors will laugh, cry and potentially find their lives changed, possibly only in small ways, as a result of attending one of the most humane and touching theatrical experiences of 2014.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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