Every Brilliant Thing
Bewley’s Café Theatre
It’s not often one leaves a theatre feeling as though the experience has been a privilege. But that’s the only way to describe Every Brilliant Thing, Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe’s 2013 meditation on suicide and hope, produced originally by Paines Plough and Pentabus at the Ludlow Fringe Festival.
Exquisitely structured and eloquently un-selfpityingly philosophical though it is, I suspect it wouldn’t be half the superb and searing experience it is without the presence of Amy Conroy as Narrator.
Conroy has a beautiful smile, and from the moment she wanders across the performance space to engage with her audience, half pleading, half challenging as she teases them into promises of participation in they know not what, this is a presentation of a bared soul, naked, bemused and embattled by a struggle she never asked for.
A woman recalls November 9, 1987. She was seven, and had her first experience of death when, with her father, she brought her beloved dog Sherlock Bones who was older than she was, to be put to sleep. It was kinder, the vet explained. She didn’t know what that meant. But as Sherlock went cold in her arms, she decided to make a list of every brilliant thing she could think of… beginning with ice cream.
And when her mother did what her father described as something very foolish, the list was still filled with simple things. But she continued adding to the simple things, to give the list to her mother, and make her stop being sad. It didn’t, of course.
But it was many years later, when the list had defiantly reached close to a million, and the woman had loved, married, and lost, that her mother did finally die by her own hand. The list had been lost and found, grown to fill a series of storage boxes, the “things” often thoughts too deep for words or comfort. And she had learned along the way that suicide was and is insidious: that when a “celebrity” is reported as dead by their own hand, there is a copycat spike.
But while we are taken through the shadows of guilt and helplessness, sometimes buoyed up by the imagination which makes life bearable, we learn that the child of someone with suicidal ideation “can’t help feeling like you failed them.”
And there is a final, anguished cry: that if any of us can say that we haven’t been crushingly depressed in our lives, “then you probably haven’t been paying attention.”
The authors, through Conroy’s quizzical performance that is effervescent, passionate and contemplative by turn, gently demand engagement with the pain of life’s loneliness, however bravely borne, and leave us, hopefully, a little wiser. Certainly, a little more gentle.
Conroy is directed by Andrea Ainsworth, and Every Brilliant Thing is at the Peacock until Saturday and will tour to Navan, Drogheda, Ennis, Waterford, Longford, finishing at the Mick Lally Theatre in Galway on February 12. It’s not to be missed.
Mella and Maura are both addicted to takeaways: the more highly flavoured and noisome the better. Through a series of misunderstandings concerning their shared passion, they meet at a church gathering for women with eating problems.
Wha’? Actually, better not to ask. Because what Ciara Elizabeth Smyth’s Sauce is about isn’t sauce, it’s deep-rooted psychological problems. Mella is a compulsive liar, and Maura is a kleptomaniac.
Then Mella’s granny dies, and since she’s been granny’s carer and lived with her, and granny’s left the flat to her drunken brother, that’s Mella out on the street more or less.
Maura also finds herself homeless, having woken up to find her (rich and good looking) husband on the job with an underage girl in their bed. Well, you’d be inclined to leave in those circumstances, wouldn’t you?
Billed as an hilarious comedy, everything works out for the best for the two women, because two thirds of the way through, things suddenly take a serious turn (supposedly) and the reasons for both sets of problems are “explored” and ”explained.” To be honest, that’s the best part of the play, with the overloaded manic sector far too long drawn out and wildly over-acted by Clodagh Mooney Duggan and Camille Lucy Ross.
It debuted at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2019, and has been revived under Jeda de Brí’s direction at Bewley’s. A rigorous editor would probably have made all the difference.