Every Brilliant Thing has played over 600 times on four continents since its 2013 premiere. It was originally performed by Dublin-born comedian, playwright and performer Jonny Donohoe, who co-wrote the piece with English playwright and director Duncan Macmillan. Donohoe performed his show in Melbourne three years ago, when it was programmed in Malthouse’s 2016 season. 

In March, Every Brilliant Thing arrived at Belvoir for a limited season and, later this week, opens at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres. The show’s narrator and only voice is Kate Mulvany. We learn pretty quickly that her mother suffered from mental illness over an extended period. When the child was seven, her mother was hospitalised following an attempt to take her own life. We then learn how the child conceived of a way to make her mother happier, by writing a list of all the things in life that make our existence on earth worthwhile. It’s a list that is continuously added to over several years and ultimately comprises many thousands of entries. 

Kate Mulvany in Every Brilliant Thing (Photo by Brett Boardman)

Of course, a child’s efforts, however well-intentioned, cannot overcome the depths to which mental illness can take a sufferer. But Every Brilliant Thing isn’t just a reminder of the simple joys and it doesn’t deign to suggest these issues are easily resolved. This piece is an effort to keep alive the memory of a person no longer with us by sharing stories of her life; it’s a reminder of the shared experiences to which we can all relate; it’s an opportunity to share laughs and moments of sadness; and it’s a poignant demonstration of the power of conversation, of how opening up a dialogue about mental illness and bringing these issues into the open is an effective way to cope.

Rather than a play, Every Brilliant Thing offers something more akin to a forum, in which a high level of audience interaction throughout is integral. Mulvany is a wonderful storyteller and her innate congeniality makes her the ideal performer to lead the narrative. This may not be her story, but her ability to retell it with such sincerity and feeling is a powerful illustration of the universality of situations referenced in Donohoe’s and Macmillan’s text. Nothing is forced or jarring in Mulvany’s delivery, and she has her audience engaged from the start. The decision to stage the piece in the round means she is easily able to move to all parts of the theatre to involve audience members.  

Kate Mulvany in Every Brilliant Thing (Photo by Brett Boardman)

There are innumerable aspects of life that make it worth celebrating, but there are no easy answers when it comes to addressing mental illness. That’s the essential message permeating the text of Every Brilliant Thing. Over 80 minutes, there’s no pervading delusion that saving a life is as easy as making a long and happy list. But it causes us to reflect and to talk about subjects often avoided or ignored. It asks us to have the difficult conversations, to tackle these ideas head on, and to de-stigmatise mental illness and the mentally ill. Every Brilliant Thing is the conversation starter everyone needs. 


When: 7.45pm on 3rd to 6thApril and 2.15pm on 6th April 2019
Tickets: Adult $62, Concession: $57 
Discounts available for Riverside Theatres’ Members. 
Transaction fees: phone $4.60, web $3.60 and counter $2.60.
Where: Riverside Theatres – corner of Church and Market Sts, Parramatta
Tickets: riversideparramatta.com.au/show/every-brilliant-thing/ or from the Box Office (02) 8839 3399
Recommended Ages: 14+

Warning: This production contains references to self-harm and suicide.

If Every Brilliant Thing has raised any concerns for you following the performance, 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.au1300 224 636), and youth mental health foundation, Headspace(www.headspace.org.au).