I have reservations about one-woman and one-man shows.
It’s hard to hold an audience’s focus, maintain the plot and developments while making sure you’re not becoming monotonous. So when they come up in a theatre season, they’re usually not my first choice. Luckily Kate Mulvany is my first choice of actress so the one-woman factor didn’t put me off.
I’m pleased it didn’t because the audience isn’t allowed to just sit back and watch. They take the ride with Kate and participate in her emotions and energy.
The play is about depression and suicide. While they touch many people’s lives, these topics are not readily spoken about.
Kate tackles the subject matter sensitively. She has a warmth to her that draws in the audience and creates an instant empathy. You feel part of something. You are in this together.
And it’s funny. Not what I was expecting. But that’s often the best theatre – to be surprised, amused, entertained, and enlightened. Every Brilliant Thing was all of that and more.
Kate has a personal experience of suicide. Ten years ago, she lost her partner Mark to suicide. She wanted to be able to talk about the man she had lost – the shadows and the light of the mental illness he had suffered from.
In this play, she said she saw “an honest communal conversation between friends and strangers on mental health, with no judgement, no apologies, no demand for answers – just a simple exploration of the brilliant things in life”.
Written by Duncan Macmillan, the play was first performed and co-written by Jonny Donahoe, who performed it in six continents. The play is un-gendered and once again kudos to Belvoir for casting a woman in a role which, though first played by a man, did not need to be.
I’m a fan of Kate, and she can do no wrong. From Richard III to The Harp in the South to The Literati – she’s brilliant in them all. And of course, she was the #1 Brilliant Thing.
To watch her command and own the stage – even when being vulnerable – shows the depth of her talent. She is making a list of Every Brilliant Thing she can think of but when an audience member’s phone goes off she doesn’t miss a beat – “not one of my favourite things”, she quips.
The play is sensitive and it’s knowing. It begins with Kate at age seven, describing her life, her family, her Dad and her Mum, who we quickly discover has depression. Kate tries to make it better with her list. She wants to take her mum out of her sadness with the idea of all the most brilliant things she can think of – ice-cream, rollercoasters, hugs…etc. As she gets older, the list helps her with her own feelings of sadness. At times when she is at her lowest, or her mother attempts yet another suicide, her list becomes longer.
Kate goes through university – but the suicide attempts continue. She falls in love, and even then she is not able to escape because she keeps being called home. Ironically, it is Kate’s greatest fear when her mother is at her best and everything is great – she knows things will inevitably get much worse.
“If you live a long life and you get to the end without ever feeling a crushing depression, then you probably haven’t been paying attention,” Mulvany’s character says.
The seating has been configured to give a theatre in the round experience. This makes it more interactive, with the audience able to see each other and witness each other’s reactions. The interactions with the audience are clever and comfortable – while people are asked to play her counsellor, the vet, her Dad, her boyfriend, it’s all ok. We feel that we’re all in this together and we’re happy to contribute. There’s a moment where we all high-five the people sitting around us, and we’re glad to – we’ve shared something special.
We’ve paid attention to what’s important – we can focus on the Brilliant things in life, of which there are many, simple pleasures. Sometimes it won’t be enough – but we should never stop trying. And sometimes, just talking to people about the list, about love and loss, can be all we need.
If you’re struggling with depression or know of anyone who may be, you can always find help or someone to talkLifeline 13 11 14 and BeyondBlue 1300 22 4636