‘Every Brilliant Thing’ starts with our protagonist wondering what’s wrong. He’s seven years old and his mother has just tried to commit suicide. He doesn’t really understand what is happening, but he decides to make a list of every brilliant thing in the world to cheer her up.
It’s easy to believe that this is an autobiographical tale at first thanks to the pathos that James Rowland brings to the role.
As we follow him sporadically through the tough teenage years and into adulthood where he leaves home, goes to college and finds love, the list grows, both in length and in meaning. Ice cream makes it in, obviously, as does laughing so hard you shoot milk out of your nose.
But as the story is told through the list, we find extra layers of meaning in additions like referring to yourself in the third person and the way Ray Charles sings “you”. This is a one-man show in the round with very few props, so there’s a lot of audience interaction. There’s no need to fear, though – it’s of a very gentle nature and Rowland is expert at bringing the best out of his partners, to great comic effect.
Mental illness and depression are challenging topics to discuss, and the amount of laughter that his performance elicits is testament to his skill.
The list of brilliant things is a joy to encounter.
‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is even better, at turns beautiful, life-affirming and heartbreakingly sad.