Every Brilliant Thing wows Edinburgh Fringe

Aug 18, 2014

One-man play about child with depressed mother steers clear of mawkishness and delights critics

What you need to know

Every Brilliant Thing is one of two works by playwright Duncan Macmillan at the Edinburgh Fringe, put on by new-writing theatre company Paines Plough in a ‘flatpack' pop-up theatre in the courtyard of a former veterinary college.

Performed as a one-man show by actor-comedian Jonny Donahoe, the play is about an unnamed narrator whose mother suffers from depression. After she attempts suicide when he is six, he makes a list of "brilliant" things in life to try to cheer her up.

The list includes ice cream, rollercoasters, Danger Mouse and the fact that if you jingle your car keys in the wildlife park, otters come out to say hello. As the narrator grows older, he keeps adding to his list. 

What the critics like

Not only is this one of the funniest plays you'll ever see about depression, says The Guardian's Lyn Gardner, it's "possibly one of the funniest plays you'll ever see, full stop". It's life-affirming but not cutesy, thanks to its unflinching honesty. "There is something tough being confronted here."

This is a play about depression "filled to the brim with joy" says Daisy Bowie-Sell in Time Out. She is delighted that the audience are "an integral part of the play", called upon to play the other characters in a one-man show, including a vet and the narrator's first love, father and school councillor. 

Like the other reviewers Laura Barnett, writing for the Daily Telegraph, awards the play four stars. For her, the audience interaction would be "hokum" were it not for a "solid gold heart" to the play. And the "funny, clever and surprisingly uplifting" show avoids mawkishness by refusing to water down the reality of depression.

The Independent's Holly Williams agrees that if the "production sounds overly whimsical, it's not". It finds a "perfect balance between conveying the struggles of life, and celebrating all that is sweet in it". It is, she concludes: "Warmly recommended."

What they don't like

Praise is universal - though Barnett does find time to criticise the metal backs of the seats in Paines Plough's collapsible theatre: they're rather cold and she advises keeping your coat on.

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