Every Brilliant Thing, Summerhall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Paines Plough/Pentabus Theatre Company
Duncan Macmillan (writer), George Perrin (director), Lucy Osborne (design), Emma Chapman (lighting design), Tom Gibbons (sound design)
Jonny Donahoe (performer)
Running time

Every Brilliant Thing is a warm and inclusive production that surprisingly brightens the spirits while addressing the subject of depression.

A boy, aged just seven years old, knows something is wrong when dad, not mum, picks him up from school – late. His mum is in hospital following a failed suicide attempt, and he begins to make a list of all the brilliant things that make life worth living.

Being seven, they include ice cream, water fights and other people falling over. As the years progress he adds to the list, taking care to ensure that all things listed are genuinely life-affirming, and to limit the inclusion of material goods. One of the last glorious items to be noted is the fact that Gustav Mahler is related to Beyoncė.

The story was told in the first person by Jonny Donahoe, using members of the audience to play key roles, from his dad to his first girlfriend. Many in the audience were also handed numbered items from his list, and required to shout them out when their number was called. During the whole performance Donahoe moved among us as we sat in the round, directing, prompting and encouraging engagement.

The script was nothing short of brilliant: no sentimentality, no heart-rending soul-searching, no raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens – although they may have legitimately been included. But it was Donahoe that made this performance the brilliant thing it was. He has such a presence and is so at ease in his interactions with the audience. This was a difficult and demanding role and he played it so effortlessly and with such absolute conviction, that many would be surprised to learn that it was a script and not actually his own story.

Both humour and pathos were present from the outset, helped along the way by a great choice of music: particular credit to Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up, that was possibly the defining track, making you feel that all’s right with the world. Donahoe makes the point early on, that if you have not felt crushingly depressed at some moment in your life then you probably haven’t been paying close enough attention. But if this production does not leave you feeling that life really is worth living after all, then nothing will.

Runs until 22nd August at 12pm