The Sandbox Collective’s latest production, a staging of the interactive solo performer play ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ by Duncan McMillan, is a sobering, slow burn show that tackles mental health issues like depression and suicide with a healthy dose of comedy, reflection, truth, and humanity. Directed by Jenny Jamora and acted by Teresa Herrera, ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is a journey into the insight of the main character’s experiences of depression, from a parent and their own.
McMillan’s play is a solo performance, with the lead player recounting memories and acting them out, sometimes using members of the audience to play opposite her with characters from her memories. It’s a juggling act for the player, in this case, Teresa Herrera, to play the part -- jumping in and out of various timelines and moments -- and then prepping the audience member into a performance to play off.
‘Every Brilliant Thing’ revolves around a list the lead character starts at the tender age of seven to cheer up her depressed mom. Some members of the audience, before the play even begins, are given sheets of paper with a number and a word or phrase on them, which they are asked to shout out loud when Herrera calls out their numbers on the play. These are items off of the list, a list of “every brilliant thing” that she should come up with from seven until life had hit her hard as she grew up.
This list becomes the focal point to talk about depression and mental health.
Mental health is a shaky subject to tackle, but necessary. It’s at the forefront of many news reports now and there is a staggering number of cases of depression and depression-led suicide that’s happening now, but we still don’t know how to talk about it properly.
The play finds an incredible way to skirt around the usual hazards of the topic by keeping it personal to one person’s experience, but by asking members of the audience to play other characters within the narrative, we are somehow included into the story. It’s an ingenious tool to show us that we are all included in this person’s story. Everything from a father and a daughter’s relationship, to a teacher, a visiting lecturer, a love interest, and even just voices of random strangers calling out items from the list.
The effect is captivating, really. I was very resistant to it at the onset. There is some novelty to the idea of watching a stranger being picked out from the crowd to play Herrera’s dad in the story or to play the guy the character would eventually marry. Other members of the audience laughed and enjoyed the scene but I was terrified of it. I was seated right in front and I was so scared of being picked because I came to enjoy a play, not be part of one.
This theatrical tool, the interactive part, took me away from the play as I was really getting into the story. On the day I came, an audience member was a little more bold and decided to improvise and have fun with a scene she was asked to play out and added bits to the story that I felt was inappropriate to the scene that is unfolding. It was amazing work by Teresa Herrera to bring it back to the theme and narrative, to wrest back the control. For a few minutes, I was more annoyed with the audience member than I was focused on the story.
But this is what is amazing about ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ and the production and Herrera’s performance: it brings you back. By the time the play was ending its hour and twenty minute running time, I sat there feeling distant from the piece but as she continues to recount items off of the list, I found myself crying in my seat. The tears just started to flow regardless of how I felt because it seeps in.
The interactive component of the play is important because Teresa Herrera steps out alone into the stage, surrounded by her audience, but she is not alone. The audience is there with her and she brings them in and they become part of the play itself. There is a magical connection that becomes apparent and resonates so strongly with the message of the play. We are not alone. And there’s so many things to be thankful for and as the play ended, I was in tears but I was grateful; and I was still annoyed by that audience member but I was so happy that it all happened.
‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is extending for another weekend and it’s something everyone should see. It’s an incredible performance, production, and play that talks about the stuff that is hard for us to talk about with so much insight in a light and casual tone that it will make you laugh and cry in equal measure. If they want another item on their list, they should include this production as well.
The Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatrical will extend the run of Duncan Macmillan’s EVERY BRILLIANT THING, running four more shows, with matinee (2:30 pm) and evening (7:30 pm) shows on March 2 and 3, 2019. Tickets (P1,200/VIP, P1,000/Regular) are now available through Ticketworld and The Sandbox Collective at (0956) 200 4909 and (0917) 554 5560.