Every Brilliant Thing review – reasons to be cheerful

This is not a play, but it is playful; it’s not an entertainment, although it is entertaining. Created a decade ago by the playwright Duncan Macmillan with comedian Jonny Donahoe and here performed by Andrew Turner, this almost-solo show is thoroughly engaging – and not just emotionally. It may tell the story of just one boy as he grows into adulthood, but we are all in it together from the start.

As we take our seats, Turner hands out slips of paper to those happy to accept them. Over the course of the next hour or so, when he calls out a number, an audience member reads aloud what is written on the slip. “Number one!” calls Turner. “Ice-cream,” comes the reply. “Number seven!” “People falling over.” “Twenty-four!” “Spag bol.” These are some of the “brilliant things” that make life worth living and which he is recording on an ever-expanding list.

The list starts on the day that the boy’s father unexpectedly picks him up from school (a member of the audience obligingly takes on the role). The boy’s mother has tried to end her life (for the first time). The boy wants to give her reasons to live. His list continues from primary school, in stop-start judders, through leaving home, going to university, finding love… “Nine-hundred and ninety-nine!” “Sunlight.”

As Turner unfolds the story through laughter, engaging the help of the audience when in need of supporting characters, it becomes apparent that the motivation behind the list is changing. Blaming himself for not changing his mother’s state of mind, the boy turned man is now searching for reasons why he himself should live.

Audience participation becomes an expression of the reality at the core of the piece. The writing, direction (by Liz Stevenson) and, most of all, Turner’s performance all rely on trust: reach out, and people will respond. Ultimately, perhaps, the most brilliant thing about life is that it is a shared experience.