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Sydney review - Every Brilliant Thing: a powerful and emotional experience

Steve Rodgers: photo by Brett Boardman

Every Brilliant Thing

By Duncan Macmillan

Directed by Kate Champion. Co-Directed by Steve Rodgers

A Belvoir Production

Belvoir Street Theatre

Belvoir Street

Surry Hills

Season has ended.

If you are thinking of going to see the latest production of Every Brilliant Thing at the Belvoir Theatre, I can only say one thing: DO!

Stop reading reviews now and go without any preconceived ideas. You’ll understand why.

If you can’t make it or have already been, read on…

There is a clue in the title of this show which sums up its effectiveness as a play – ‘Brilliant’. It’s the most simply powerful and emotional experience I’ve enjoyed for quite a while.

The writer, Duncan Macmillan has penned an extraordinary monologue in Every Brilliant Thing. There is one actor, one character who tells a roller-coaster lifetime story via narrative and enactment. The subject matter and message is heavy – suicide. However, its subtle delivery is cleverly made without judgement, blame or prejudice.

The narrator, performed by Steve Rodgers, begins as a 7-year-old boy being taken to hospital by his father to visit his mum, who has done a terrible thing to herself. An act which will be attempted many times in her life. And, as his pet dog Sherlock Bones is euthanised by a vet, he learns that life and death march together.

However, the young lad develops a coping mechanism which he hopes will help his mum get through her dark moments. He begins a list, later referred to as ‘Every Brilliant Thing’, of sensory experiences (sights, sounds, tastes, feelings and smell) which bring a sense of enjoyment or adventure to his life. And number one, of course, is ICE CREAM. The list is not ordered, just written as life presents them. Such as ‘people falling over’, ‘riding down a hill on pushbike’, ‘water fights’ or ‘peeing in the ocean and no one knows about it’.

We see the boy evolve into teenager, university student and manhood. His list expands at a rapid rate as life’s experiences ramp up. At various times he tries to get his mum to read it. She never discusses it, but he knows she reads it because spelling errors have been corrected.

As the story is told, grim statistics on suicide occurrence is presented. Such as the 12% spike in suicides which occurred after Marilyn Monroe’s death. And we learn of a code of practice which we hope the media will follow when reporting such events.

Steve Rodgers is remarkable as the Narrator. His natural warmth, humour and ability to ad lib made him the perfect communicator for this sad topic. His empathetic manner won the hearts of the audience. He truly gives a ‘standing ovation’ performance. As he stands alone on the stage, he symbolises the loss of hope that mental illness saps from people.

However, he is not alone. Throughout the production, audience members are called upon to contribute (presumably by pre-arrangement) to the ever-growing list of Brilliant Things. Some take on brief roles as vet, father and girlfriend. To the credit of Director Kate Champion and Steve Rodgers, this added dimension of audience participation demonstrated that help is always available when asked or when aware that its needed.

It’s hard to find fault with this outstanding artistic presentation. The topic is raw as is the staging. It must be that way.

In keeping with the style of my opening sentence and the theme of Every Brilliant Thing, if you are thinking of suicide, I reiterate the narrator’s message: DON’T! Things get better – always choose life.

Rush to see this show, it’s a gem!

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