Thursday, October 13, 2016

Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre, 'Every Brilliant Thing': Making a List

Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe's play fights depression with unbridled optimism. Photo: Richard Davenport

Pavilion Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival
Nov 11-16

My thoughts on Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe coming up just as soon as I strip wallpaper off the wall in one go …

As the audience one-by-one read aloud curiously etched notes handed out by charming performer Jonny Donahoe, it becomes clear that his play, written with Duncan MacMillan, has won more than the attention it conspires for. Everybody will be alert because they’ve been issued a number, waiting for it to be called so to speak their line. But there’s also no hesitation in the sound of the voices; everyone wants to hear the evening out. That’s ideal for a play that engages something so brutally silent as depression.

In this absorbing Paines Plough and Pentabus co-production, staged intimately in the round by director George Perrin, Donahoe gives sympathetic shape to a life shadowed by suicide. The audience with their lines are actually building a list written by a hopeful child to cheer up his depressed mother. “1: Ice Cream”. “2: Kung Fu Movies”. “3: Burning Things”.

That list is continued into the man’s adulthood (“The Seventh Song on Every Great Record”, “The Prospect of Dressing Up as a Mexican Wrestler”) for the sake of his own mental health. After a failed relationship and a family death, audience members continue to be kindly present, elicited to play a vet or a schoolteacher. When he ultimately arrives at a group therapy session, we realise our own roles within a production that sensitively depicts depression as well as celebrates people’s support.

When Donahoe finally unloads the sizeable list, contained in boxes, its unbridled optimism is inspiring. When someone's despondent, there’s a lot to be said for simply paying attention.

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