Every Brilliant Thing 13+
by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
“1. Ice cream. 2. Water fights. 3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.”
What do you do as a seven-year-old child when your mother tries to take her own life? You write her a list with everything that’s brilliant about the world. In this sensational monologue, we as an audience enter in direct contact with the daughter, who tells us about her life and gets us to become co-actors in it. Her childhood isn’t dark, music is a constant companion, listening to jazz, playing the piano in the kitchen, singing; but also, there is always her mother’s lingering depression, further attempts to take her life. Her father buries himself in his room amongst his record discs, keeping his distance.
As a teenager she continues the list, writes new entries to convince her mother. “319. Laughing so hard that milk shoots out of your nose. 517. Trusting someone so much that you let them check if you have bits of broccoli between your teeth.”
And later at university she meets someone who continues the list, now on her behalf: “1003. Realizing that for the first time in your life, someone is occupying your thoughts every minute of the day, so you can’t eat or sleep or concentrate, and they feel utterly familiar even though you barely know them.”
She marries this someone. It all seems to turn out okay. But the fear of being like her mother, remains. And a list of everything that makes life worth living will not stop someone who has decided to put an end to their life.
“Because to live in the present, we need to be able to imagine a future that will be better than the past.”
The award-winning playwright Duncan Macmillan creates a very special theatrical moment with this text. The protagonist subtly integrates the audience into her life story: they are the vet who puts her dog down, the overwhelmed father trying to explain what is wrong with her mother, her first great love whom she meets at university. Speaking and thinking about death ultimately leads to the opposite: a great, solemn plea for life and “every brilliant thing” about it.