Every Brilliant Thing, Summerhall, review: 'One of the most uplifting plays at the Fringe'

Edinburgh Festival 2014: A perfect balance between conveying the struggles of life and celebrating all that is sweet in it

Holly Williams
Friday 15 August 2014 11:26

Duncan Macmillan’s one-man play may be about a seven-year-old boy’s mother attempting to commit suicide, and his own subsequent struggles with depression, but it’s hardly gloomy - this must be one of the most uplifting plays at the Fringe.

The boy tackles the problem of his mum’s sadness with childlike simplicity: he starts making a list of all the good things in the world. Waterfights. Balloons. Chocolate. The colour yellow.

Slips of paper with entries from the numbered list have been handed out to the audience; guided by Jonny Donahoe - who plays the boy with beaming openness - they read out this litany of loveliness. Voices come from all over Paines Plough’s in-the-round stage (which looks like a spaceship crossed with a kids TV studio), and with gently handled audience interaction, a few punters also become key characters in the boy’s life as he grows up.

If George Perrin's production sounds overly whimsical, it’s not: early on Donahoe declares with deceptive lightness, “if you got all the way through life without ever being heart crushingly depressed, you probably haven’t been paying attention.” The list of brilliant things becomes a crutch, a way to counter his mum’s attacks, but it can never really help her. It’s doubtful it can even help his own depression, whose slow and sad creeping impact on his romantic relationships will be recognisable to anyone who’s been depressed or loved someone who is.

But the list keeps growing - and with each suggestion, so too does our anticipation, and our smiling confirmation, of Macmillan’s nicely observed everyday joys: the smell of old books, really good oranges, hairdressers who listen to what you want. The way Ray Charles sings ‘you’, having a piano in the kitchen, hearing a vinyl record for the first time... and the show is lovingly soundtracked with soul records, which fit its dual interest in joy and sorrow.

Every Brilliant Thing finds a perfect balance between conveying the struggles of life, and celebrating all that is sweet in it. Warmly recommended.

To 22 Aug; edfringe.com

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