Every Brilliant Thing – Kate Mulvany reaches out. (Theatre Review)
Every Brilliant Thing
Belvoir Theatre 8 – 31 March
Images: Brett Boardman
If the following review raises any concerns for you, please don’t hesitate to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or at their website lifeline.org.au. More links are in the closing paragraph of this piece.
In Every Brilliant Thing writer Duncan Macmillan explores both the Werther effect and the Papageno effect in a dialogue about depression and suicide. A monologue by way of interacting with the audience is carefully couched in a list of (as it turns out thousands and thousands) wonderful things in the world that give one a reason for living. During this hour and twenty-minute engagement, ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ is tossed aside by the protagonist in favour of a detailed list about every brilliant thing in the world that encourages us to continue to live. The moment when Kate Mulvany tosses aside ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ reminds us of the Dorothy Parker quote: “This is a book that should not be tossed aside lightly. It must be thrown with full force.”
And with this, the audience is plunged into the question of ‘why live?’ and it is here that we are kept for the duration of the show. Duncan Macmillan’s text (enhanced by his first performer Jonny Donahoe) connects us gently and warmly with our neighbors who fast become our friends. Indeed, there are times when (as Camus put it) we are overwhelmed with tenderness for those in the room sharing this experience at the same time. For this current production, the protagonist is the always delightful Kate Mulvany. She takes a purposeful ten minutes before things gets going to whizz around the room asking folk for a bit of a hand with the show. These requests are added into small cards, which Kate then seamlessly folds into the show’s trajectory, as people feel at ease and joyfully call out the detail on their card when the time is right. Through this action an absurdity of the human condition fills the room and is made conscious. Once brought to the fore, we are forever bound to the ridiculousness of what it is to be human.
Inside the safety of this absurdity, the comfort of the room and the warmth from our neighbor, we are able to confront the awkward ridiculousness of life and see it as fundamentally without hope. Kate Mulvany takes us to some dark areas in Every Brilliant Thing. Inside this, hope is recognized as the opposite of fear. It is like a wish, a dream, a passive expectation. Hope on its own, leaves too much to chance. Hope is better wielded to direct and drive action. Action is the will to do something and to experiment with something else if this fails to achieve the desired purpose of the act. Inside here we are gifted the opportunity to see what Nietzsche means when he claims “though woe be deep: Joy is deeper than hearts agony.” Inside a hope fueled action (such as making the titular list of the show) we are conscious of the futility, repetition and endlessness of his labour, but we find a certain joy and harmony in making this struggle our own as if we had chosen it freely. Even though the fulfillment of each task leads only to the next and a reenactment of the initial struggle, it is inside the struggle that we find fulfillment and a worthwhile existence.
Director Kate Champion (this production is co-directed by Steve Rogers) brings us full circle when we see that theater itself is the entirely ephemeral producing of these small projects, and that each theatre event is engaging with the highest order of life and what it is to be human.
Every Brilliant Thing is a beautiful little piece of theatre, and of particular poignancy to those of us dealing with or have friends dealing with mental health issues around depression. Kate Mulvany, touched by these subjects in her own life (she shares powerfully in the program notes) is purposeful and gentle in relating the events of Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe’s stories. Kate Champion directs her and calls forth great skill and competence in managing a room that is its own extraordinary feat to witness. Lighting design by Amelia Lever-Davidson is natural. The room remains lit and we are able to see and connect to our neighbor, delight in audience participation and experience the audience as an extended community of fellow witnesses. Isabel Hudson makes a stage of Belvoir ‘in the round’ which broadens the sense of community centered around the skilled performance at the centre of the room.
Every Brilliant Thing is a subtle and careful production, filled with wit, wisdom and joy as it moves through its subject matter with great care. If the subject matter in this review, or in this production raises concerns for you, Lifeline offers a 24 hour counselling service and can be reached at 13 11 14. You can find more information on their website, lifeline.org.au. Another strong organisation to conact is beyondblue.org.au who can be called on 1300 224 636. For young people, headspace.org.au is available. Reaching out is essential, and Every Brilliant Thing broadens the space for just that.