Listing your favourite things to ward off the blues isn’t a new idea by any means.
For Rodgers and Hammerstein it was “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens / Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens …”
For punk legend Ian Drury it was “Cheddar cheese and pickle, the Vincent motorsickle / Slap and tickle” and much more besides.
In Every Brilliant Thing, British writer Duncan Macmillan (with comedian Jonny Donahoe, who performed the show for several years after its 2014 debut) presents us a similar – and much longer – catalogue of little pleasures, one that begins with ice cream and goes on to encompass the smell of old books, the sound of vinyl records, the music of Ray Charles and lying in bed late with the person you love.
Taken individually, each item doesn’t seem particularly significant or surprising. Who doesn’t like ice cream? But here, collated in a humorous yet purposeful hour of theatre, they form a life-affirming bulwark against depression and suicide.
Kate Mulvany is our host and narrator, a woman who has grown up in the shadow of suicidal depression.
Her list of “brilliant things”, she tells us, began as a gift from her seven-year-old self to her hospitalised mother, a child’s attempt to remind her mum that life is worth living and convince her that she is loved.
Days pass, weeks pass and the list grows longer.
Years go by. The girl grows up, leaves home, attends university. She falls in love and gets married. As she grows, the list grows. But it’s not just for her mother now – it’s for herself. Suicide, she explains, has a contagious aspect to it. The children of parents who die by their own hand are far more likely to follow that lead.
Belvoir Upstairs is reconfigured into an in-the-round venue for this Kate Champion-directed production and Mulvany works the entire room in a performance incorporating dramatic monologue and audience-roving talk show.
It’s a highly interactive piece of theatre. House lights remain up for the duration and many in the audience have lines to deliver. Some are pressed into service – in the most genial way – to play the girl’s father, a vet, the boyfriend/ future husband and a literature professor extolling the virtues of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Two people are required to play the part of a stage revolve, “the most reliable one in Sydney”, Mulvany quips.
The feel-good flavours of the script and Mulvany’s agile management of storytelling and audience makes for a warmly involving hour. There’s some room for the “count-your-blessings” message to strike as simplistic, but the show’s collaborative form, wit and sagacity win out, sending us back into the world a little wiser for the experience.
And if there isn’t a localised surge in interest in the music of soul star Teddy Pendergrass, I’ll eat my hat.
If Every Brilliant Thing has raised any concerns for you, Lifeline offers a 24 hour counselling service and can be reached at 13 11 14. Additional information can be found on their website, www.lifeline.org.au.
Other services which may be of assistance include mental health advocacy organisation, Beyond Blue (www.beyondblue.org.au, 1300 224 636), and youth mental health foundation, Headspace (www.headspace.org.au).