Paines Plough’s Every Brilliant Thing visited Riding Mill last week and for many, many reasons it has certainly made it onto my list of brilliant things.
Reason No.1: It was extremely exciting to have a touring company come and visit us in Riding Mill.
We, at TVYT, are certainly not strangers to turning little village halls into exciting theatre venue. It is not unheard of for the Millennium Hall to become a hoarders house, a hypnotherapy centre or a spooky toyshop where children are turned into toys… Or perhaps the Parish Hall would be an arena where candidates fight to prove their worth, a speak easy or even a boat adrift at sea.
However, watching a critically acclaimed one man show come and take over the Parish Hall for one night was new, even for us.
Reason No.2: It was a ‘One Man’ show that focused on narrative and character beautifully.
The plot follows a 7 year old boy as he deals with his mother’s depression and suicide attempts. It is a very honest and touching representation of a child’s understanding of depression despite the fact that you’re watching a full grown man, with a beard. Johnny Donahoe’s performance was utterly compelling: he embodied the 7 year old boy with honesty and vulnerability; gave us some insight into the complicated world of a teenager; invited us to follow as he fell in love at university; and asked us to hold his hand with his complicated marriage in adulthood.
I laughed, I cried and I felt completely connected to the character and his story. I could, without a doubt, have watched another 30 minutes of this performance without checking my watch, and I feel confident enough to speculate that this was probably case for the majority of our audience.
Reason No.3: Every Brilliant Thing dealt with heavy subject matter in an entirely engaging and accessible way.
Ok, so you hear that a play is about a boy whose mother is depressed and suicidal… you think ‘right, I better bring the tissues and get ready for a difficult evening’.
BUT Every Brilliant Thing and Johnny Donahoe’s delivery of the text was so light and warming WITHOUT glossing over the difficulties of depression and mental health. With each giggle that sat alongside a tender moment, I knew that my laughter was bittersweet. I didn’t, for one second, forget the severity of this boy’s story, but I was able to breathe and reflect throughout the performance because the balance was struck so delicately.
Reason No.4: I felt like his friend and I felt like I had his back, and he had mine, no matter what.
Audience interaction is difficult. As an actor it probably isn’t all that difficult to speak directly to an audience member, however, to do it well enough that you get them to willingly take on the other characters in the play, is really, really hard to do.
When most people hear that audience interaction will be involved they shrink down into the chair and hope to God that they won’t be noticed (I’m not ashamed to admit that I am one of those people)! But that is made significantly harder when the performance space is set up in the round and the performer is already walking through the audience talking to every single person before the performance has actually began.
Johnny Donahoe has something about him that makes an audience instantly warm to him, but what is this magical thing that had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand? I mean, it has to be magic to make one lady take off her shoe and use her sock as a sock puppet, right?
Well, if by magic we mean being warm and personable, then yes! Johnny (and I feel very comfortable calling him Johnny, because we’re friends) spoke to us not at us. He waited for the nods of understanding, he exchanged smiles, he sat next to us and invited us into his world and that is pretty special.
Reason No.5: The List
I felt warm and comforted listening to the list of every brilliant thing the character could think of. It was a simple and beautiful reminder to be in the moment, to find one thing amongst all of the bad that makes you smile.
I was inspired to write a list. Were you?
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Tyne Valley Youth Theatre is an initiative of Mortal Fools. As a non-profit organisation, we use all income we receive to directly support our projects for children and young people, both through our youth theatre and other projects in deprived areas of Northumberland.