Review: Every Brilliant Thing

Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing is a modern production, telling the story of a character who tries to help their chronically depressed mother by writing a list of ‘brilliant things.’ Yet this list manifests itself in the narrator’s own life too, giving them a new perspective on life.

The brief of Duncan Macmillan’s play is pretty original: it requires a single, unnamed narrator, audience interaction and a quick transition from emotion to humour. Hild Bede Theatre accomplish the conditions brilliantly, producing a simultaneously joyous, yet thought-provoking play.

The style of the production is very casual, which seems suitable for such an honest story. This is also helped by Layla Chowdhury’s interactions with the audience. Initially taken off guard, the audience’s participation progresses into a more comfortable feeling. By the end of the performance, in fact, the contributions feel part of the narrative. This is testament to both Layla Chowdhury’s comfortable style, as well as the overall shape of the story.

Layla Chowdhury is notable for her ability to turn her script into a conversation, one full of improvisation. An especially remarkable scene is the one in which she is unpacking her ‘rubbish’, which have positive post-it notes attached. This feels especially spontaneous, and very much captures the intimacy of the action. Chowdhury also commands thoughtful silences, letting her words hang for just the right amount of time. Her movement around the room is effective in engaging the audience with the passages of her story. I especially like Chowdhury’s increasing speed as she lists good things in life. It compellingly portrays both the mood of the production, as well as the message.

Chowdhury presents her character as more mature than Donahoe’s portrayal in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Production. Whilst the latter actor conveyed innocent naiveite in his attempt to comprehend his mother’s mental illness, Chowdhury portrays a more reflective character. This perhaps gives the audience a more nuanced, mature perspective on the narrator’s childhood, but sacrifices the ‘growing up’ aspect of the character.

Having Cafedral as the production’s location is brilliant. It is unusual, and this immediately makes the production feel more vulnerable than other performances. I think this is especially important for a story with such a thought-provoking message.

The positive post-it notes at the end of the performance are a lovely touch, and inspiring to read through. This form of audience interaction truly encapsulates the inclusive mood of the production. It also concludes the messages of the performance effectively.

Although there were a few muddled lines, Chowdhury’s acting is very powerful. She portrays both lightheartedness and emotion equally well. I would recommend this production to anyone who wants to feel uplifted, but have something to think about upon leaving the performance as well. It is original, creative and heartwarming, certainly a play worth seeing.

Hild Bede Theatre’s Every Brilliant Thing is on 6th– 8th December, at 7:30pm, in Cafedral.

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