Every Brilliant Thing is a play about all things great and small that make life worth living. Co-written by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, it was first produced by Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre, in June 2013 at Ludlow Fringe Festival and was presented in Perth for the first time at the 2016 Perth Festival.
Every Brilliant Thing is a solo show starring Luke Hewitt and tells the story of a boy’s memories of his mother’s attempted suicide. The seven year old dedicates every waking moment to curating a list for his mother of all the brilliant things worth living for. From the broad #4 “The Colour Yellow” to the detailed #9998 “Watching someone watch your favourite film” and even cheeky ones like “watching people fall over.” As he grows older, the list grows with him and helps him make sense of the world around him.
The show is performed in the round with a beautifully minimalist set designed by Fiona Bruce, featuring a single bright yellow, circular shag pile rug under a warm amber spotlight. The uplifting jazz and swing numbers, curated by sound designer Melanie Robinson, work harmoniously with the warm lighting design by Kristie Smith, adding to the campfire storytelling style of the work.
There is a hint of nostalgia in the setup and the space is a sepia toned memory; soothing and comfortable. Luke Hewitt is in his element, harnessing the power of stand-up comedy and easing his hand-selected team of participants into the storyline with good natured humour. While theatregoers tend to flinch at the mere suggestion of audience participation, the considerate and gentle way in which they are included in the storytelling process is what makes this work rich with emotion.
There is a genuine feeling of connection between audience members as we sit across one another and bear witness to the raw emotions left in the wake of a loved one’s suicide. More than once, I locked blurry eyes with someone else in the audience who would reciprocate with a gentle, knowing smile or mouth an “are you ok?” across the room.
This feeling of connection is particularly poignant in a post pandemic world, where we have spent the better part of last year grieving the loss of the world we knew, separated from our communities by distance and sharing our grief mainly through screen time. In Hewitt’s words “… the heart, the hope and the humour in the play, and its familiarity, is the fact that we all have had some connection to tragedy, and that no one is alone in this experience…”
Having recently experienced the loss of a close friend and mentor, I was hesitant at first to attend this show, worried that I would leave retraumatised and broken hearted. Instead, I was delighted to find a gentle and life affirming show that celebrated the small victories of life.
Touching, poignant and funny; Every Brilliant Thing is quite literally every brilliant thing about theatre; its ability to heal, to connect human beings and to remind us that we are never truly alone in our battles.
Photos by Marg Bertling