Every Brilliant Thing
QPAC, Paines Plough & Pentabus Theatre Company
March 8 – 11 2017
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Inspired by Every Brilliant Thing, we’re asking you to share one brilliant thing that you think makes life worth living. Use the #BrilliantThingsProject hashtag on Instagram or Twitter, or visit qpac.com.au/the-creatory
You’re seven 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.
Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV
The colour yellow
Things with stripes
People falling over
Adapted from the short story, Sleeve Notes, based on true and untrue tales, Every Brilliant Thing is the most precious piece of theatre in the world right now. While everyone is finishing up being very angry around one corner and getting ready to be very fancy around the other (and being very funny across the river, around the corner and down the road), this little play, staged in the round in QPAC’s intimate Cremorne Theatre, is something that could potentially tour forever, such is its intimate tone and at the same time, its extensive reach and invaluable lessons in real-life gratitude, as opposed to the meme-heavy token #gratitudeporn currently flooding our social media.
Written by Duncan Macmillan and originally starring Jonny Donahue, this touring production features James Rowland, a master in non-verbal specificity and crowd control. It’s not so much a case of the traditional audience participation or interaction employed in this show but, as a friend observed after the show, the finer art of “audience integration”. Not only are we completely engaged in the story, but some are invited to be a part of the telling, and in the provision of props. Before the show begins – before it can begin – Rowland hands out pieces of paper with either multiple lines or a single word printed on each. Numbered, these are the brilliant things of the title, thousands upon thousands of them, creating a list of everything worth living for. The joy is in the detail, and the tragedy contained between these lines, embedded in the silences. Rowland holds space for us to consider every brilliant thing, and contemplate what might be on our own lists.
There is magic in so many moments, including listing the items themselves (and we never grow tired of hearing number one: ice cream), and the scenes in which the audience members assist. For example, the awkward moment when a young front row fellow laughs nervously whilst delivering a lethal dose to the dog, Ronnie Barker. As the vet probably shouldn’t find the situation funny, he’s asked to play out the scene a second time, and it’s surprisingly – but not – absolutely devastating. And when the primary school teacher and school counsellor, Mrs Patterson, removes a shoe and a sock because she was directed to do so in a previous scene requiring a sock puppet and thus, next time she is called upon, already knows the drill. This is sweet and funny as the latter scene takes place some 10 years after the first. The most affecting interaction though, is when a gentleman plays the son (and then later, in a clever turn, the father), as Rowland imagines the answers to a child’s innocent and persistent stream of “Why?”.
This is meta-theatre at its most intimate, gently letting us in on the secrets of putting a show together, and at the same time, giving us a glimpse of just one way of trying to keep all the pieces of a life together. The sadness is even almost bearable because its shared, and it strikes me that for some Every Brilliant Thing could be a truly cathartic thing.