“Every Brilliant Thing”
Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 21 April 2017
Every Brilliant Thing, written by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, deals with the grim subjects of depression and suicide. It is presented not from the sufferer’s point of view, but that of a family member growing up and living with the realities of the matter.
The play’s portrayal of depression is incredibly nuanced. Instead of depicting it categorically as a tragedy, Brilliant presents depression as an everyday part of life, making the subject matter accessible without being heavy-handed or didactic. Underneath the narrator’s anecdotes and stories from childhood (including honest thoughts like being angry with his mother for wishing she were dead), to dating and marriage, to his eventual separation, emerges the acceptance that life is less than perfect. This point is reiterated towards the end of the play. There, the narrator observes that if one has lived a long life without ever being depressed, one “probably [hasn’t] been paying attention”.
Like the list that the narrator compiles over decades of his life, as a means to remind his mother (and himself) of all the brilliant things to be happy about, there are several brilliant things about this play. As the narrator describes his mother’s wildly swaying moods, one comes to realise that the play is taking the audience through a similar trajectory – lighthearted, often hilarious moments morph into dark, serious moments in a matter of seconds.
The theatre-in-the-round configuration also suddenly makes complete sense when the narrator joins a support group for survivors of suicide, taking up position within the circle and addressing everyone as members of the group.
Fresh from winning Best Actor at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards 2017, Andrew Marko bravely takes on this very challenging, one-man performance of a role that was originally played by one of its co-writers, Jonny Donahoe. Marko’s rapport with the audience is laudable – with a script that calls for some supporting roles to be played by audience members, many things can go wrong. However, the audience gamely participates, and this is probably due to Marko’s ability to put the audience at ease right from the start.
As the one hour and twenty minutes of the play progresses, Marko’s focus does not waver. Near the end, in desperation, the narrator calls his ex-school counsellor (played to humorous effect by an audience member) on the phone many years after graduation, and breaks down. I struggle to process what just happened, my laughter is caught abruptly in its tracks. I observe the same thing happening around the circle of stunned faces caught one by one in mid-laugh, as silence descends upon the room.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
EVERY BRILLIANT THING by Bhumi Collective
18 – 23 April 2017
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jocelyn holds a double Masters in Theatre Studies/Research. She is a founding member of the Song and Dance (SoDa) Players – a registered musical theatre society in Singapore. She is currently building her portfolio career as an educator and practitioner in dance and theatre, while pursuing an MA in Education (Dance Teaching).