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‘Every Brilliant Thing’: a play about depression that’s every bit as comical as it is heartfelt

Every Brilliant Thing is a play with a beautiful but simple premise. Its sole player recalls a list of every brilliant thing that has helped him get by in an otherwise tragically sad world. Most of this outside sadness is marked by his mother’s chronic depression. But with every object or action that features on his list, the protagonist grows stronger in the belief that life is well worth living.

The play, written by Duncan Macmillan along with Jonny Donahue, and delivered brilliantly (see what we did there?) by Perth actor Luke Hewitt, is performed in-the-round in the Heath Ledger Theatre’s Studio Underground. This four-quadrant setting sees the audience members visible to each other while it also makes it easier for Hewitt to pluck whoever he wants from the crowd in the name of audience participation.

It’s a wonderfully immersive tactic that sees some audience members participating willingly and often wildly. Not only are theatre-goers given items to read out loud – as Hewitt goes through is seemingly endless list – but some are actually invited to play the parts of important participators in the main subject’s life: his father, his first date, and so on.

Hewitt does a wonderful job keeping the story ball rolling – in fact, he’s quite the ardent and efficient director and would do wonders should he ever decide to move on from acting and into a directorial career. The audience are also awesome for going along for the ride – and kudos to all those who stepped up to the plate.

Singer, songwriter and poet Patti Smith said it best when I interviewed her once. In response to a question about many of her colleagues who had cut their life short, partly due to depression, she said, “Bad things are going to happen, but there’s always going to be something great to think about and write about. Your imagination will bring you things. The planets, or the full moon, or a really great book, or somebody has a cool movie out. You fall in love, or meet a really neat person. There’s a million reasons to live.”

While part of the conclusion in Every Brilliant Thing is rather sad, the end message is an overtly optimistic one: that if ever you’re feeling down or depressed, simply think of some of the great things that are worth living for.

If Patti had seen this play, I’m sure she’d agree it hits the nail on the head in the optimism department.

Antonino Tati

‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is on at Studio Underground, Heath Ledger Theatre, Northbridge until September 18, 2021. Tickets are available through bsstc.com.au.

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