Every Brilliant Thing – Peacock Theatre – Review
by Paddy McGovern
10 – 22 January 2022
by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Abbey Theatre production of ‘Every Brilliant Thing’. Photo by Ros Kavanagh
How can a play deal with the darkest of subjects, such as depression and suicide, without itself being depressing? Not easy, but playwrights Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe along with narrator Amy Conroy between them manage to do precisely that at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin.
We meet our protagonist as a young child. The attempted suicide of her mother leads her to compile a list of all the brilliant things of the title. No. 1? Ice cream… and we’re off. As the child grows, with age comes an eclectic list of delights from the purely sensual (the colour yellow) to more complex, abstract and intellectual ones. The list provides wry observation on human foibles and the power of the imagination. Family relationships, crushes, romance and marriage bring fulfilment and frustration in a way that treads a fine balance between sentiment and cynicism, steering clear of both.
Mental illness, depression and the crippling effect it can exert on families are among the huge issues faced head-on. Also, the guilt we feel when unable to help sufferers close to us. As the narrator tells us in a key moment if you live a long life and have never felt crushingly depressed, “then you probably haven’t been paying attention”. Issues are not sugar-coated or sentimentalised and the play is all the stronger for its honesty. As a result, the evening is as much about resilience and simply ‘keeping going’ as it is about depression and, against all odds, the final impression is uplifting rather than gloomy.
A well-judged soundtrack, taking in mainly blues and jazz, punctuate the action while Conroy’s comic timing and warm, charismatic performance act as a powerful counterbalance to the bleak central themes. Interactive theatre can be inhibiting and embarrassing. Conroy’s approach, quietly engaging audience members in advance, enlisting them as minor participants, is in every way successful. It is as engaging a performance as the playwrights could ask for and well worth taking in.
Directed by Andrea Ainsworth, it continues at The Peacock until the 22nd of January before touring several venues around the country.
Narrator: Amy Conroy
Written by: Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Director: Andrea Ainsworth
Costume Design: Donna Geraghty
Lighting Design: Suzie Cummins
Sound Design: Carl Kennedy
25 – 26 January at the Solstice Arts Centre, Navan
28 – 29 January at the Droichead Arts Centre, Drogheda
1 – 2 February at glór, Ennis
4 – 5 Feb at Garter Lane, Waterford
8 – 9 Feb at the Backstage Theatre, Longford
10 – 12 Feb at the Mick Lally Theatre, Galway