Every Brilliant Thing review – ode to life’s joys is candid and compassionate | Theatre

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Of all the brilliant things that make one girl happy, music is the most important, especially her father’s vinyl record collection. In this new Abbey theatre production, a rich soundtrack of jazz and blues animates Andrea Ainsworth’s bare-bones staging of Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe’s play from 2013. Taking a candid and compassionate approach to the subject of suicidal depression, the writing manages to be both heartfelt and buoyant as it portrays a child’s experience of her mother’s suicide attempts. At the age of seven, the unnamed girl (Amy Conroy) hopes that by making a numbered list of “every brilliant thing” that makes life worth living, she can make her mother feel better.

With no set, minimal props and only Carl Kennedy’s sound design to assist her, all eyes are on the irrepressible Conroy. It soon becomes clear that she will not be the solo performer: audience members have supporting roles throughout. As well as calling out items on her ever-expanding list of life’s joys – “ice cream” and “water fights” are important at the start – audience members are asked to play key characters in the girl’s story as she grows up. Co-creators to an extent, the audience nevertheless relies heavily on the improvisational gifts of Conroy, whose charm, warmth and spontaneity smooth over some of the script’s awkward transitions and tonal shifts.

As she moves from childish playfulness to the guilt she later carries for her mother’s suicide, the young woman keeps adding to her list. It becomes a form of diary, documenting what is important in her life at a particular moment, and helping her recover when she begins to lose her own mental equilibrium. While maintaining a light touch, in Conroy’s direct address to the audience the play comments on media responsibility when reporting suicide. Making a plea for kindness and mutual support that seems particularly timely, her character observes that most people will experience a form of depression at some point in their lives. Or as the closing song puts it, more insouciantly: “into each life some rain must fall”.

  • At the Abbey theatre, Dublin, until 22 January, then touring until 12 February

  • In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected] or [email protected]. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.



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