For the longest time, it was the human condition which dared not speak its name.
But, with more people than ever sharing their personal stories and speaking out about depression, public education and awareness are going a long way to remove the unwarranted social stigma, fear and mystery surrounding this hobbling mental illness.
In doing background research for this review, there appears to be similar connective tissues linking people who suffer from the disorder. Creative highs are often followed by debilitating lows. Mood swings may also be another testing character trait.
Famous diagnosed depressives include Woody Allen, Isaac Aminov, Beyonce, Zack Braff, Jim Carrey, Winston Churchill, Emily Dickinson, Janis Ian, Franz Kafka, and many more. The list goes on and on.
Supporting the theory that laughter is often the best medicine, what is fascinating but not entirely surprising, is the number of well – known comics touched by depression.
In a recent one – woman show, Ruby Wax confesses to and owns her status as depression’s poster child. Sane New World (2014) also has Wax talking about her deepest, darkest days directly with audience members as a form of group therapy.
Written examples include how Dawn French wrote ‘Dear Fatty’ as a tribute to her suicidal late father. Alan Cumming composed ‘Not My Father’s Son’, not only exposing a childhood of abuse and neglect, but as a way of understanding his grandfather’s grim and final days. Even our own jolly lady, Magda Szubanski, has shed substantial light on the subject in her brilliant autobiography, ‘Reckoning’.
Riding the wave of international critical acclaim, the British actor, comedian and writer, Jonny Donahoe, brings his take on the black dog to Melbourne’s Malthouse.
Co – written with Duncan Macmillan and directed by George Perrin, Donahoe’s one – man show, ‘Every Brilliant Thing’, is staged effectively in the round at the Beckett Theatre.
Playing for a strictly limited season, this is an immersive, theatrical experience which may be appreciated and savoured on many different levels.
Without giving too much of the structure away, Donahoe’s sixty – minute routine is essentially the artist’s personal history, growing up. What makes his story really stand out, is the novel yet specific use of the following narrative device.
Starting from the time Donahoe was seven, a family tragedy began to shape and inform his way of seeing the world. Perhaps as a coping mechanism, he began to make a list of everything (or Every Brilliant Thing) which made him happy, and also, as a means of keeping his depressive mother safe from self – harm.
The list grows to the point where it becomes Donahoe’s life mission. It drives difficult decisions, gives him confidence to count on when he needs it, and brings others into his world to the point where they add to the list as well.
Patrons take note, Every Brilliant Thing is also highly interactive.
As opening – night audience members began to take their seats before the show, Donahoe randomly approached viewers and invited them to take part. Handing them each a sheet of paper, he instructed them that whenever he mentioned a particular number on the list, for them to read it out.
Other guests were given more key involvement, called on to play Donahoe’s dog’s vet, his father, his school councillor, and his girlfriend.
Asking your audience to participate can work to your advantage, or quickly unravel. Though gently encouraging, Donahoe’s skill and experience as a performer were always evident. Staying in the moment, never once did he let proceedings slip away from him.
Donahoe also uses a brilliant prop (pun intended) which gives this deceptively simple show perfect closure.
Selling depression as an evening of entertainment is a challenge, and Every Brilliant Thing may not be for everyone. But for those wanting a firmer grasp on how or why sad things happen to good people, Donahoe and his team have paid it forward with their tremendous and precious gift.