Every Brilliant Thing review: A magical, uplifting show

It is hard to imagine anyone not falling for its gentle inclusivity and charm

With an implacable smile, Conroy encourages and supports even the most reluctant of audience members to join her on stage

With an implacable smile, Conroy encourages and supports even the most reluctant of audience members to join her on stage

 

EVERY BRILLIANT THING

Abbey Theatre on the Peacock Stage
★★★★☆

Before the start of Every Brilliant Thing, a soul-stirring play by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, performer Amy Conroy circles the auditorium, greeting the audience and enlisting their assistance. Each audience member is handed a numbered index card with a short statement on it. When the time comes, Conroy entreats us, would we be so kind as to share that statement with the rest of the theatre? Yes, the fundamental thrust of this magically uplifting show about mental health is interactive, but it is hard to imagine anyone not falling for its gentle inclusivity and for Conroy’s easy charm.

Every Brilliant Thing tells the story of a young girl confronted with her mother’s depression (in the original version the child was a boy). Her instinct is to try and cure her mother. With this in mind, she starts curating a list of all the amazing things that the universe has to offer. She starts with simple things (ice-cream, kung-fu films) but as it grows the list encompasses more personal pleasures, including the family’s shared love of music. While her mother seems immune to her daughter’s interventions, the daughter herself is transformed: the list changes how she sees the world, providing her with an emotional literacy and resilience that will eventually save her from her mother’s fate.

Conroy presents this story with a disarming, comfortable frankness
Conroy presents this story with a disarming, comfortable frankness

Under Andrea Ainsworth’s fluid and flexible direction, Conroy presents this story with a disarming, comfortable frankness, which serves as its own lesson: why is there such shame associated with discussing mental ill health? With an implacable smile, Conroy encourages and supports even the most reluctant of audience members to join her on stage in ancillary roles, and she meets their varied responses and enthusiasms with spontaneous, joyful improvisation. Macmillan and Donahoe’s script is good, but it is only a small part of what makes its performance great.

Until January 22nd. Then touring

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