Every Brilliant Thing (That Production Company) – theatre review

When depressed, we are urged to remember that things get better for there are many brilliant things about the world… at least a million according to our unnamed narrator’s hopeful list. It his list of these that is the central premise of Every Brilliant Thing … a list of everything worth living for, first compiled by a seven-year-old, with no concept of finality, in an attempt to help his depressed mother.

Photos: Kenn Santos

Written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, Every Brilliant Thing is performed in the round, while the theatre remains lit. Under the careful direction of acclaimed Ipswich-based That Production Company’s Artistic Director Timothy Wynn, the audience is taking on quite the emotional journey, from the early tears of watching our protagonist (Jason Klarwein in a role shared with two alternate performances from Tom Yaxley) relieve his first experience of death through to his university years and adult relationships.

Duncan Macmillan’s interactive theatrical experience about family, love, loss and hope is full of pathos. But it also includes humour, courtesy of, for example, school counsellor sock puppetry and the work together of sound and lighting to emphasise a seven-year-old’s description of jazz, with the feel-good crescendo of a collective bongo beat dance-off and mass of high-fives.

Klarwein is a charming performer who holds the audience compelled throughout, but also easy director of the shared storytelling. Many of the most memorable moments, come from his in-the-moment ad libs in response to audience interactions, contributions and nearby props. Interest is added also, though his assumption not only of the protagonist, but by mix-up of roles, to see him for example, as his father playing out a conversation with an audience member as himself, as he would like to remember it, on the way to the hospital after his mum has first hurt herself ‘because she is sad’. The variety of segment types is well-balanced to make for an increasingly engaging, connective experience and there is very much a sense of the collective as audience members work together in its interactive realisation.

While select audience ‘volunteers’ assume roles for brief scenes of in-seat interaction, mostly involvement comes from contribution (by on-seat numbered cue-cards) of items of the random, unordered list (because how can you rank Danger Mouse above spaghetti bolognese). Initially, it reflects both the naivety and creativity of its seven-year old author, beginning with ice-cream and water-fights, before maturing to skipped-to consideration of 1000+ entries around adult priorities of coffee, vinyl records, waking up with someone you love and not worrying about money spent on holidays.

For all of its frivolities, however, there is no escaping the shadow of its organising centre and exploration of the pain and complexity of mental illness, and the importance of talking. Even in considering this, the play, which last appeared on the Brisbane stage in 2017, is intimate, charming and heart-warmingly joyous in its reminder of the ordinary things for which we should be grateful in a world of complexities and tragedies. Indeed, Every Brilliant Thing is as poignant and uplifting as ever in its life-affirming celebration of life’s brilliant moments, its small joys and spots of beauty that so often get forgotten in the hurly-burly of the adult world… especially needed in the current news cycle.

Every Brilliant Thing plays Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre, Brisbane until 21 October 2023

Meredith Walker
For more of Meredith Walker’s writings on theatre, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane

Other reviews you might enjoy: