Every Brilliant Thing @ Orange Tree Theatre: 1,000,001: Going to the Theatre

This is a thing that’s happened to me; I’ve reached an end.

When I saw After the Rehearsal/Persona a couple of weeks ago, I was really miserable. I was walking to the concrete palace known affectionately as the Barbican and it was pissing down with rain and I had a bit of indigestion and I really didn’t want to be going there. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t enjoying going to the theatre. And that’s the only reason I do this shit, because I enjoy it.

I saw a couple of other things in the weeks after, many of which I don’t really remember in great detail. This is not because they weren’t good, but because I didn’t want to be there. I wasn’t writing about things because I didn’t care enough, and it took me weeks to write about the things I did write about because I simply couldn’t muster the energy to do so. I was going for the sake of it, booking last minute tickets to things I wasn’t overly keen on seeing simply because I could – that type of excitement I’d discovered over the last two years has come to an end. I no longer wanted to see everything, I realised, I no longer needed to inhale theatre. Now I just want to see things I want to see.


Every Brilliant Thing is a wonderful, relentlessly gorgeous piece of theatre. It’s no wonder, because it’s performed by the genuinely lovely Jonny Donahoe who seems so at ease on that stage, and who seems willing to charm anything with a pulse.

And that’s a good job, because he does have to charm the whole damn theatre, coercing us into participation to varying degrees, but it’s always from a place of warmth, and humour, and everyone’s game. Macmillan and Donahoe are both master storytellers, and that’s crucial when the theatre they make is storytelling at its simplest; we are literally just told a story. The Narrator (for want of a better word) tells his life story; growing up in a house with a suicidal mother, and creating a list of brilliant things; reasons to keep living. The list is childish, and childlike, and genuinely funny and warm and sweet and heartbreaking.

The audience joins in with the list, reading out ‘Ham and Mayo Sandwiches,’ and ‘Realising You’re Never Too Old to Climb Trees.’ We gain a stake in the story, giving it a heft that a 60 minute long play really has no right to acquire under normal proceedings. It’s a perfect combination of form and content, and I’m beginning to think maybe Macmillan understands this better than any other playwright I can think of.

Donahoe made a curtain speech; it turns out we had seen his last performance in the play, the last of about 400. He was visibly emotional, thanking us for not letting his last be a damp squib. It was an end for him, and a sudden one, I imagine; to go from holding that play in your head for 4 years, to realising you won’t do it again… that must feel like a death, right? It’s closing the back cover of a book knowing you can’t ever read the first page for the first time again.


I’m very glad that it’s work by Duncan Macmillan that has book-ended this period for me. It was People, Places and Things that made me want to see absolutely everything, to be constantly in pursuit of the next thing. And it’s Every Brilliant Thing that has reminded me that Theatre is definitely on my list of brilliant things, so why bother doing it if I’m not enjoying it?

Not that I’m quitting theatre altogether mind, or stopping this blog. You don’t get shot of me that easily. You probably won’t even notice me seeing less from what I tweet or blog – but my mind and my reasoning has been changed. And I like that.


Photo by Richard Davenport


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