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Review: Every Brilliant Thing at the Marlowe Studio, Canterbury, June 2015

As hard sells go, the idea of writing a funny play about depression must have been up there with, oh I don’t know – a musical about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or a reality TV series where you incarcerate a group of people in a house and film them doing nothing for hours on end.

But, as The Book of Mormon and Big Brother proved, the strangest of ideas can work – and Every Brilliant Thing takes the subject of the son of a suicidal manic depressive mother and turns it into a sweet, funny, original drama.

It’s a one-man show, starring comedian Jonny Donahoe…except it isn’t because several members of the audience get roped in to play all the supporting roles needed to tell the story. On the night I saw it, this produced some hilarious results, especially when the reluctant volunteers overcame their British reserve and unexpectedly shone in the spotlight.

Jonny Donahoe in Every Brilliant Thing
Jonny Donahoe in Every Brilliant Thing

It means that seeing the play is a different experience every night and keeps it feeling fresh. It also creates opportunities for Donahoe to improvise, such as when the audience was required to provide a couple of books in a scene set in a university library and one brave girl duly dug into her bag and obliged with a paperback – the result of which left Donahoe having to enthuse about the literary merits of Confessions of a Midwife.

The story, written by Duncan Macmillan with Donahoe, is based around a simple idea – a young boy’s mother attempts suicide, so he starts a list of every brilliant thing in the world that would make you want to stay alive. Time goes by, the list grows and takes on a life of its own as adulthood throws its own problems in his path.

A simple idea, but the result is an impressive achievement – a play about depression that makes you leave the theatre feeling cheerful.

Every Brilliant Thing was at the Marlowe Studio, Canterbury on Friday, June 5 and Saturday, June 6.

MARLOWE STUDIOEvery Brilliant Thing was at the Marlowe Studio, Canterbury, for two nights, after staff spotted it at the Edinburgh Fringe and thought it would be a good fit for the Studio’s programme.

Jonny Donahoe in Every Brilliant Thing
Jonny Donahoe in Every Brilliant Thing

So while theatre-goers were flocking to see Matthew Bourne’s ballet The Car Man in the main Marlowe theatre, a smaller crowd lined up at the Studio doors for something completely different.

And that’s what the Studio offers. It promotes itself as Kent’s home of new writing, comedy and contemporary theatre. Tickets are reasonably priced so it’s worth taking a punt on something you might not otherwise have tried.

The recent programme has offered everything from The Piano Man, about the mystery man who turned up with no memory on a Kent beach, to a mime about wartime nursing memories, to a dark comedy about twenty-something women.

This week, on Thursday, June 11 and Friday, June 12, you can see a version of the Ealing comedy The Ladykillers, and over the coming weeks and months, the Studio will welcome Storm in a Teacup, inspired by Chekhov’s Three Sisters, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), comedy cabaret, folk, skiffle and From the Jam, an acoustic set by Bruce Foxton, former member of The Jam, and Russell Hastings.

To find out more about upcoming plays at the Marlowe Studio, visit www.marlowetheatre.com or call 01227 787787.

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