Every Brilliant Thing: Shining A Light On Depression

Published in Arts  
Duncan Macmillan’s heart-wrenching comedy ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is hitting Australian stages in March.

‘Every Brilliant Thing’ charts the story of a seven-year-old boy whose mother is in hospital and struggling with depression. Unable to entirely understand what is happening, the boy constructs a list of all the things worth living for. Starring British actor James Rowland, the list grows over time, as does the boy, as he tries to survive tragedy.

James Rowland
James Rowland

“It’s a one person show about grief and depression and how to survive it,” James explains. The show doesn’t have a full cast playing each character in the story like most other plays. It is just James on stage narrating the story, relying on heavy involvement from the audience. “I play the narrator, which is the only role in the show, except for those played by audience members. It starts off with me as a child, as a seven year-old and grows up through my life,” he says.

‘Every Brilliant Thing’ doesn’t exist without the involvement of the audience, making it a remarkably interactive production, with James guiding new characters as they arise. He does ensure, however, that participation will be as gentle and as non-confrontational as possible.

“The audience is playing everybody else in the story: my father, a school counsellor, a university lecturer, nice old people who I meet very briefly at a hospital, some very small and some more significant roles, are all taken by the audience."

Ev Bril Thing2
'Every Brilliant Thing' with Jonny Donahoe as lead

Obviously very in touch with his character, unaware of referring to himself as the character, James explains that the play is so well-written it seems as though he is playing himself: “It’s all really very much there in the writing... It’s a very simple piece in terms of performance because there’s no set and there’s no pretence that I am actually anybody else other than myself telling the story,” he says.

James has always been a fan of ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ and is thrilled to be playing this role for the first time. He comes from an interactive theatre and storytelling background so he is well suited to the role but is also looking forward to experiencing new challenges along the way.

“It’s within what I’ve been doing so far in my career. But in terms of this specific show, certainly in terms of creating the world of this play and interacting with an audience, there’s nothing that I know of that exists like it. So it will come with it’s own differences and wonderful challenges that I’m looking forward to.”

Ev Bril thing
'Every Brilliant Thing' with Jonny Donahoe as lead

With strong messages and themes about depression and mental illness, ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is not only intimate and interactive, it is also raw and poignant. James hopes people take away the message that depression is okay to talk about and opens up those lines of communication.

“There’s a line in the play actually, which is: ‘I have a short piece of advice for anyone contemplating suicide. Don’t do it. Things get better. They may not always get brilliant, but they get better.’ That’s essentially the point of it.”

“I don’t know anybody who isn’t affected by mental health issues in their life, be it theirs or somebody close to them. It’s a really important thing and it’s important that people talk about it.”

‘Every Brilliant Thing’ plays at Queensland Performing Arts Centre 8-11 March, and Adelaide Festival Centre from 14-18 March.

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