Q Theatre, Rangatira, Auckland

21/03/2017 - 26/03/2017

Luggate Memorial Hall, Wanaka

04/04/2017 - 06/04/2017

Turner Centre, 43 Cobham Road, Kerikeri

08/04/2017 - 08/04/2017

Russell Community Hall, Bay of Islands

09/04/2017 - 09/04/2017

Auckland Arts Festival 2017

Festival of Colour 2017

UPSURGE Bay of Islands Festival 2017

Production Details

Writer: Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe


You’re six years old. Mum’s in hospital. Dad says she’s ‘done something stupid’. She finds it hard to be happy.

You make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world.

Everything worth living for.
1. Ice Cream
2. Kung Fu Movies
3. Burning things
4. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out your nose
5. Construction cranes
6. Me 

A play about depression and the lengths we go to for those we love. 

Suitable for ages 14+

Some scenes make reference to mental illness and self-harm.

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Luggate Hall

Tuesday 4 April, 12 noon & 6.00pm
Wednesday 5 April, 3.00pm & 6.00pm
Thursday 6 April, 12.00 noon & 3.00pm

$39 adult, $10 student

UPSURGE Bay of Islands Festival 2017

The Turner Centre, Kerikeri
Saturday 8 April 2017, 7.00 pm
The Russell Community Hall, Russell
Sunday 9 April 2017, 6.30 pm
EARLY $34 – FULL $38
plus service fee

Youth , Theatre , Solo ,

1 hour

Uplifting, charming, inspiring

Review by Joanna Page 09th Apr 2017

Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahue is a witty, positive and uplifting look at depression and the effect it has on the people who love its sufferers. It’s about a seemingly innocent, but heartfelt list started by a seven year-old boy trying to cope with his mother’s first suicide attempt.

James Rowland carries this one-man-plus-the-audience play on able shoulders. He begins by explaining how the list came about; his father picked him up from school (which was unusual) and told him “Mum’s done something stupid” before driving him to the hospital. It’s there, when he isn’t allowed to see his Mum, that he starts to make a list of all the brilliant things that bring joy to life. In no particular order: ice cream, the colour yellow, laughing so hard you shoot milk out of your nose, Dangermouse … 

He finds cunning ways to share the list with his mother (writing on the inside of mustard jar lids, Post-Its galore), but she returns it all to him without mentioning a thing. Over time the list grows, and grows. He adds to it after his mother’s second attempt. His friends contribute. He meets a girl and the list cements their relationship. It becomes an integral part of his life. 

The play is performed in the round, under bright lighting, so the audience members see everyone else and feel as though we’re all in it together. And we are. Various people are given a piece of paper with a list item; when their number is called they read out the list item – “Other people falling… Old people holding hands”. Others become cast members, cleverly guided and reassured by Rowland: the vet who came to put down his beloved dog Ronnie Barker, his father, school counsellor, university lecturer, keyboard holders and Sam, the love of his life. 

Rowland’s energy carries the 60-minute performance. He is utterly convincing as the seven-year-old, the teenage student, the young man in love and the man who realises that adult life isn’t as simple as he’d hoped. He manages his audience cast-members gently, feeding them their lines and offering notes when needed. There’s an element of improvisation, too – especially with a reluctant New Zealand audience – which adds to the play’s charm. 

With very few props – books, a jumper and a pen borrowed from the audience, boxes of paper, a keyboard – Rowland has every tool he needs to engage us and touch our hearts. The music helps, too. It’s a key part of who his character is; the swirling melodies of old standards, the discord of jazz and the spine-tingling voice of Ray Charles add a layer of complexity to the story-telling. Plus there’s WHAM! and we all know you can’t have a list of brilliant things without WHAM!

I leave uplifted and inspired to start my own list with my family. At number one is Every Brilliant Thing.


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Brilliant indeed, on many levels

Review by Pip Harker 05th Apr 2017

Things with stripes 
The colour yellow
People falling over …

Every Brilliant Thing is the title of a list.  A list of why life is great.  A list a child starts for his mother, who has attempted suicide, which becomes a list for the man, his friends, his partner, his Dad. 

A play about depression, suicide and the heart-breaking effects of both on a 7-year old boy and then his growing up… And, oh yes, it’s a comedy … of sorts; actually a deeply affecting, life-affirming and poignant story of the simple joys of life, dealing with depression and learning how to stay afloat.

Written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, this play is based on “true and untrue stories”.  Donahoe has starred in the play, to great acclaim in London, Edinburgh Festival and more.  The extremely likeable James Rowland now stars as Jonny in this one-man play – very big boots to fill but I would guess he is just as good as Donahoe because Rowland is brilliant.  We are quickly drawn into his story and our hearts break for him, over and over again. 

So moved are some of the audience that they (older and female) go and hug Rowland at the end of the play.  They can access him easily as we, the audience, are sitting around him on four sides (actually standing, at plays end, as we give him a standing ovation). There is no set and most of the props borrowed from the audience – a pen, a book … 

It’s always a little disconcerting when you’re taking your seat at a play and you’re handed a piece of paper and told to read it out when your number is called.  Be advised: audience participation!  And plenty of it.

Rowland seems to have a real knack for choosing people, from the in-coming audience, to play the other characters he needs.  They seem to be perfect for their roles and natural actors.  Set-up? Methinks not.  Almost everyone in the audience does, in fact, get a line to read so everyone feels involved in this deeply personal show. 

The soundbites of stunning jazz tracks and classic soul numbers, which ‘Mum and Dad’ loved, are a little lost on the younger ones as are the more serious themes throughout.  I notice in the programme it says “Suitable for ages 14+” and it would’ve been nice to see this in the Festival of Colour programme too. 

As a much needed conversation-starter about depression and suicide this play is brilliant on many levels.  As a wonderfully acted, simply-staged, deeply-moving, incredibly sweet love-letter to the simple joys of life and the lengths some will go to for their loved-ones, this production is unmissable.


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Brilliant Clarity

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth 24th Mar 2017

Every Brilliant Thing is not what you would expect…not at all.  

But it definitely is, as billed, “the funniest thing you’ll ever see about the least funny thing in the world”.  

It’s important not to give away the format of the show, as part of its joy is how it reveals itself through sweet, funny, poignant scenes and storytelling.

Set in-the-round at Q Theatre’s Rangatira, solo actor James Rowland brilliantly portrays a human life spanning childhood to adulthood which includes family, joy, love, loss and kindness. [More


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Warm, friendly, moving, manic, gentle and convincing

Review by Candice Lewis 22nd Mar 2017

Director George Perrin has achieved immediate intimacy with theatre-in-the-round seating afforded by flexible staging in the Rangatira space; the audience completely surrounds the floor. Jangling jazz interspersed with more tolerable tunes of a bygone era plays loudly, and the lights are bright enough to allow me to examine everyone sitting opposite us.  

James Rowland, the actor in this one man show, is walking around and handing audience members pieces of paper of various shapes and sizes. I am delighted to get one, and although my friend is nervous, he also accepts his role as a participator. Exactly how we participate and what is written I shall not give away, but it is a factor that keeps us engaged, that induces much warmth and support from the rest of the room.

The subject of the show is no secret – depression, and how it affects us and those we love, touches everybody. At the age of seven our hero’s Dad tells him his mum is in hospital because she’s “done something stupid.” He decides to “make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world. Everything worth living for.” We are right there with him, and as sad as that may sound it is an extremely positive experience.

I am laughing or smiling throughout, even as I wonder how many other people in the audience have experienced depression and/or the suicide of a friend or relative. Writers Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahue may hail from the UK, but bringing the topic of depression into the light is something New Zealand is in great need of. As Macmillan says, “considering how common depression is, it’s surprising how much stigma there still is around it, how reluctant people are to discuss it.” 

This is theatre that is entertaining, interactive and provides catharsis without indulging in the darkest corners for longer than necessary. It makes me think of Brilliant Things that would make my list, and how naming it that is more fun than calling it a ‘gratitude list’. A gratitude list whiffs of grovelling, but Every Brilliant Thing sparks with delight. What would make your list? Bare feet on grass, dancing slowly in the dark, noticing one leaf shaking on an otherwise still plant, sparrows bathing in bowls of dust …?

Rowland’s performance is warm, friendly, moving, manic, gentle and convincing, and best of all, sparks thoughts of small brilliance.


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