Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

02/03/2016 - 05/03/2016

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2016

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. So you start to make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world. Everything that’s worth living for. 

1. Ice Cream

2. Kung Fu Movies

3. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out your nose

4. Construction cranes

5. Me

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

Based on true and untrue stories.

Hannah Playhouse
Wednesday 02 Mar – Saturday 05 Mar
GA $59.00
Recommended for ages 14+  

Performed by Jonny Donohoe

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hr

Humble show ray of light in darkness

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 24th Mar 2017

Amongst the spectacle of the Auckland Arts Festival is a small show with huge heart.

Every Brilliant Thing introduces a 7-year-old boy who is told his mother cannot find any good reasons to go on living. In response, he starts to make a list of some brilliant things she might like to consider.

As the years pass, the list takes on a life of its own; at times it is forgotten amid the clutter of everyday life, then it reappears and is updated to reflect the changing moods of adolescence and adulthood. [More


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Pacing and presentation exactly right

Review by Patrick Davies 03rd Mar 2016

Every Brilliant Thing is one of those rare pieces of theatre whereby the show is stripped right back to just a storyteller. And what a story, and what a teller. Duncan Macmillan is an award-winning playwright and it’s no surprise he wrote Lungs (a man and a woman stand on a bare stage, no set, no lighting effects) which also tells a beautifully emotional tale.

This is the story of an unnamed narrator who “at the age of seven” writes the titular list because his mum is in hospital after “doing something stupid”. From the immediate delight of “chocolate” to No. 5 – “Things with stripes”. The list is present as he grows through adulthood gets married with all the ensuing usual suspects (house, job, car and the possibility of children) and he keeps adding all these wonderful seemingly insignificant little details that colour our loves.

It’s also an incredibly touching, sometimes raw, portrayal of how we cope with depression when we cannot help a loved one. If I seem reticent to be more explicit about the story it’s that it is such a joy to feel it unfold in front of you that I don’t want to spoil the experience.

This is because Jonny Donahoe is such an engaging, likable, funny, honest performer that no-one could fail to be swept away. The audience is close. Very close. We sit onstage in a square of chairs. The lights never change – we only know the play starts because Jonny tells us.

Prior, he is skipping around chatting amiably and handing out variously styled pieces of paper with a number and a sentence. This is his list, and as the play progresses if he calls your number you read it aloud. I’m 959,234 – “Track 7 on every great record.” He has such an open premise that you would be hard put to refuse when asked. It’s delightful to hear what each element of the list is and to hear it with someone else’s voice.

He moves constantly, as he mostly does during the telling, and you get the feeling he has made a friend of each and every one of us. Being lit and facing each other this, and the bouncy music before ‘curtain’, makes us a small family, not just an audience. And this is key as some members will get more involved with the story than others.

There is nowhere to hide in this sort of performance situation and Jonny’s generous handling of us lets us trust him implicitly. He supports anyone to help his performance, rolling with the improvisation required, using humour to relax and enable us to give it a go. The humour balances out the subject of depression and suicide. Each time he brings us to an emotive still point in the play he leaves us there just long enough before whisking us away on the journey again.

The 50 minute performance is punctuated by some great music, the odd prop and a lot of fun. I’ve been told that if the play is directed well then the actor(s) get the glory, and if not, then the director gets the blame and I’ve found this to be true. Here, this is very skilfully directed by George Perrin. The pacing and presentation is exactly right so that you don’t notice the work behind the scenes in the slightest.

You marvel at Jonny Donohoe’s very present performance which seems so easy, casual and delightful it would be easy to think there was little direction here. But Perrin has got it exactly right – stripped back to the story and the story teller. I’ll not be the only one who’s already making a list. 


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