EVERY BRILLIANT THING at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol


Imagine writing down everything that makes you smile, uplifts you, pleases you, makes you momentarily happy. Now suppose you start the list aged seven (starting with ice cream) and keep adding and adding with everything that delights you and those around you, including first love and abiding love. Like much of what is good in life it is inclusive: so here we find ‘peeing in the sea when no one knows’, ‘the jangling sound of keys’, ‘the smell of books’ and ‘a hairdresser who listens to what you want’. Now suppose the list is much more than a list, it is a bulwark against depression that seemingly runs in your family and tragically has lead to suicide.

Every Brilliant Thing is the story, in the form of a reminiscence, of a journey through life, made whilst avoiding the cracks – of depression – in the pavement by hopping from one brilliant thing to another. The effect is cumulative, life-enhancing and universal.

Jonny Donahoe is ebullience incarnate. A short-ish man, distinctly lacking of hard edges, he gives the impression of someone who really does relish (still) the eating of an ice cream. At times he skips around the stage with a bouncing bonhomie, eager for the audience to get the point; there is so much to life that makes it worth living. Yet he is no eccentric, no outsider, just one of us with a bit of a message – an urgent message for suicide begets suicide as the death of Marilyn Monroe has shown.

Donohoe uses his audience with consideration and kindness. Those who hesitantly make their way to the stage area he treats with care. They are not, as some stand-ups would have it, the butt of jokes, but friends invited to help out in the telling of the story. Gently coaxed, prompted and scripted they give a unique dynamic to each performance. In addition to the innumerable members of the audience who were given prompt cards we had a vet, ‘Dad’, a teacher (who came up with a sock puppet called Boris) a lover-later-wife and a university lecturer, all of whom delighted with a passable turn. Perhaps because the show has been around the block a few times (including a successful run Off-Broadway) you feel that nothing could faze him, all is grist to the mill.

To spin gold from a mere list is no mean feat and this show produces it by the yard. It is touching, has passing dark clouds, but is overwhelmingly joyous. A grin was never long from my face and as with much of the laughter it was usually of recognition.    ★★★★☆     Graham Wyles     8th October 2015