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Every Brilliant Thing review

| Comedy, Festivals, Theatre | 23/08/2016


Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

In a golden year for Fringe theatre, Every Brilliant Thing continues to lead the field with its superbly acted tale of suicide and loss that leaves you feeling oddly upbeat.

Jonny Donahoe excels in the one-man play, beginning as a six-year-old boy whose father says that his mother “has done something stupid”.  When the boy learns that she attempted suicide, he applies his mind to a heart-warming solution and makes a list of all the things worth living for.

“Number 1,” he begins, prompting an audience member to look at the card she received on the way in.  “Ice cream,” comes the answer.  “Number 2.”  “Kung Fu movies,” says another.  “3.”  “Burning things.”  He writes down over 100 brilliant things and places the list on his mother’s pillow.  He knows she reads it because he finds the grammar corrected.

This is narrated with innocent eagerness, still present when the boy finds the list after his mother’s second suicide attempt 10 years later.  He adds to it and distils sections around the house for her to find.  “Number 313.”  “The even-numbered Star Trek films.”  He reaches 1,000 but that doesn’t seem enough, noting how children often blame themselves for parental sadness.

Eventually, his life takes a turn for the better when he falls in love with a girl, Sam, played by another audience member.  Sam comes across the list and they write more together.  But the boy fears a repeat of the cycle: that his happiness will be followed by a more powerful low.  So he withdraws, wallowing and is soon alone.  Until then, Donahoe’s warm, childlike voice and moist eyes brim with hope.  Now they’re tainted.  “If you get through life without feeling the crushing sadness of depression,” he says, “you’ve not been paying enough attention.”

Thankfully, he’s spared from going the same way as his mother thanks to medication and therapy, which return his tendency to seek and document the positives.  When Donahoe eventually leaves the stage to rapturous applause, he leaves behind a suitcase overflowing with scraps of paper: every brilliant thing.  The audience crowd around, sifting through their contents.  “Really good oranges,” one reads.  “The crackle when a vinyl record is played,” another laughs, knowing these are the things they’ll dwell on.

The show is practically faultless.  This owes much to Duncan Macmillan’s writing, but equally to Donahoe’s vulnerable portrayal which is vital in getting the audience to play their part.

Every Brilliant Thing is being performed at 15.15 until 28th August at Roundabout @ Summerhall.  For tickets, head here.  To keep up to date on when the show will return to London, go to Paines Plough’s website or follow @PainesPlough on Twitter.

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