Performing Mental Health
I often dislike how the topic of mental health is dealt with in a lot of film, literature or theatre. I feel it is contrived and sensationalised and completely misunderstood. However, Every Brilliant Thing is one of the very few shows I have seen that maintains a respectful and empathetic discourse around mental health. It celebrates life whilst also understanding the complexities of mental health. There was not one moment where I felt the realities of depression and suicide were disregarded. I loved Every Brilliant Thing because it was real. It is full of life and love and, at its core, is a sensitive discussion about mental health.
Written by Duncan Macmillan, Every Brilliant Thing is told from the perspective of an unnamed character whose mother has depression. The performance follows the life of this character as they try to cope with the situation in various stages of his life. The play is centred around the list of “Every Brilliant Thing” this character begins as a child in an attempt to make their mum happy. The list contains everything from ice cream to water fights to laughing so hard you snort milk up your nose.
The unnamed character is played by both Anapela Polata’ivao and co-director Jason Te Kare, alternating over the season (Te Kare played the role in the performance I attended). With only one solo actor on stage, there is a certain unique sparseness about the performance; an emptiness between each line of dialogue or each movement. This gives the audience a moment to breathe and process everything that is going on – a great way to tackle such a sensitive topic.
It is so clear that every theatrical choice in Every Brilliant Thing has been carefully considered. Ideas are manifested through deliberate directorial choices from Danielle Cormack (directing remotely from Australia) and Te Kare. One moment I loved was the dramatic manifestation of intrusive thoughts: the character would be talking about one topic then would move with a jolt and interject their own dialogue with an intrusive thought about their mum’s depression. I have huge respect for this performance because it discusses these uncomfortable and challenging topics boldly and demonstrates there had been a real conversation about how to best present the subject of mental health in this show. The premise of the show is simple and full of child-like hope. But the show itself is so much more than it lets on. It is the coexistence of humour and solemnity, of hope and disappointment, love and anger. This performance shows that mental health is not a disjunction of happy or sad: it is not black or white. It is a conjunction of emotions, a complicated grey area; happy and sad all at once.
I also love the fact that there is an overarching intention for Every Brilliant Thing to simply bring people together – to create a connection between strangers. The set-up of the audience seated around the stage means we are always looking at each other. This intimacy not only reminds us that we are all human, but also that we are never truly alone. The stage and audience set-up really created a sense of community and emphasised how important it is to connect with others, particularly during Covid-19.
I cannot write this review without highlighting Jason Te Kare’s performance. He acts with such sensitivity and heart; I felt as though I really was watching a person grow up before my eyes. Te Kare embodies the movement and spirit of a young boy trying to understand this huge situation. You can feel that hopeful childlike naivete in every line he speaks. Te Kare is humorous, hopeful and always sensitive to the realities of depression.
Every Brilliant Thing is about depression, mental health and loss. But it is also about finding the tiniest things in life that can make you happy – those moments that bring a smile to your face. When this performance ended, I had a smile on my face, and I found myself looking around for the brilliant things that made me happy. And Every brilliant Thing is most definitely one of them.
Every Brilliant Things plays The Fale, Samoa House 5th November to 6th December, 2020.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Heidi North
Silo Theatre advises: If Every Brilliant Thing raises any concerns for you following the performance, Lifeline Aotearoa offers a 24/7 helpline and textline counselling service and can be reached at 0800 543 354 or text HELP (4357) for free, 24/7, confidential support. Additional information can be found on their website www.lifeline.org.nz. Other services which may be of assistance include mental health advocacy organisation, Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand (www.mentalhealth.org.nz), and youth mental health organisation, Youthline (www.youthline.co.nz, 0800 376 633). You may also consider speaking to a trusted source or engaging your local GP.