Amongst the spectacle of the Auckland Arts Festival is a small show with huge heart.

Every Brilliant Thing introduces a 7-year-old boy who is told his mother cannot find any good reasons to go on living. In response, he starts to make a list of some brilliant things she might like to consider.

As the years pass, the list takes on a life of its own; at times it is forgotten amid the clutter of everyday life, then it reappears and is updated to reflect the changing moods of adolescence and adulthood.

By growing organically the list avoids prescriptive self-help clichés and never assumes the judgment laden quality of a top-ten. It spirals out of the here-and-now with a profusion of idiosyncratic things that have brought joy to a particular person at a particular point in time.


It is difficult to put your finger on what makes this show so appealing: the writing is honest and unpretentious with plenty of down-to-earth humor; there is gentle encouragement of audience involvement that grants people their own moment to shine and solo performer James Rowland produces some sharp-witted improvisations feeding off audience suggestions.

But beyond all that the show does what live theatre is supposed to do. It creates a communal space for people to engage empathetically and imaginatively with problems that are too big to face alone.

By adopting the perspective of 7-year-old boy, writers Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe are able to rise above the complexities and ambiguities of suicidal depression and offer a simple method of dealing with the problem.

While not laying claim to definitive answers, it demonstrates that enthusiasm is contagious especially if it is entered into in a genuine way with the spontaneous acceptance of the joy that is found in everyday things.

What: Every Brilliant Thing
Where and when: Q Theatre, Rangatira to Sunday
Reviewer: Paul Simei-Barton