LYNNE WALSH sees a show about suicidal depression which could do with cutting down on the saccharine
Every Brilliant Thing
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
IT SEEMS cynical to say that a theatrical piece about depression and suicide simply isn’t bleak enough.
True, there are several moments of poignancy in this one-hander by Duncan Macmillan, played with gusto by Jonny Donahoe, who co-wrote.
But there are hi-jinks and hilarity from the outset, with Donahoe drawing on stand-up skills honed via his work with Jonny and the Baptists — if you will name the family dog Ronnie Barker, an audience knows it’s in safe hands.
Much of the feel-good fooling around comes from audience participation and Donahoe is the very man for the job. His character’s list of “brilliant things,” started in childhood, is read from scraps of paper distributed before the show begins.
The hilarity in “Ice cream!,” “Piglets!,” and “Marlon Brando!” masks the child’s fear and uncertainty as his naive and hopeful world collides with the bleak and suicidal one of his mother.
It’s tricky to spot, in this one-hour piece with a solo protagonist, where acts two and three might conventionally have progressed and it shouldn’t matter.
Yet the child’s transition to adulthood, via the sweetest courtship, though deftly handed is followed by a headlong rush into “settling down.” The turn of events that follows is somewhat skimmed over and the sadness here might have benefited from a pause.
But we all whoop at the brilliant things and “People who can’t sing but either don’t know or don’t care!” and “Never having to do another exam!” had two rows of teenage school pupils howling.
There’s some good old Brechtian alienation going on — there’s no “fourth wall” barrier, perfect for the Orange Tree’s in-the-round configuration — and the overall effect is a reminder that attitudes and emotional responses to mental distress are entirely individual.
And there’s plenty of emotional manipulation, with both the child and adult seeking comfort from a teacher probably the wrong side of saccharine. We could have coped with a little more bitter with the sweet.
We already know that suicide is never ever painless.
Runs until October 28, box office: orangetreetheatre.co.uk