Review: Every Brilliant Thing, Belvoir

Mulvany is superb in this one woman show.
[This is archived content and may not display in the originally intended format.]

Kate Mulvany in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Brett Boardman.

Every Brilliant Thing is a wonderful evening of theatre about a girl who begins to collate a list of all the amazing things in her life to give to her mother, because her mother has attempted suicide. Cue the waterworks. It’s important to point out that this is not a depressing evening, rather it shines light into a dark corner, offering a spring (autumn) cleaning of the soul. It’s comparable to an evening of stand up comedy that touches on some sad topics (like most stand ups do). It’s highly interactive; so much so that it’s reportedly never the same experience twice.

Some of the audience members were handed numbered cards as they entered, and were asked to call out what was written on them. Bubble wrap!Christopher Walken’s hair! Eventually, as we saw the protagonist grow up and encounter life’s vicissitudes, the (selectively displayed) list climbed all the way up to a million items. The constant elision of pleasure and pain was electrifying, and felt more like a rock concert than a traditional play at times, which was helped along by Kate Mulvany’s performance on the keyboard, and the way she (be)strides the narrow stage like a colossus.

Every Brilliant Thing was written by the British playwrights Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, with the latter performing the show over 600 times. It was filmed and screened as a special on HBO.

Mulvany is superb in this one woman show. The script requires the actor to leap continuously from the highest of highs to some very somber of topics, and Mulvany does it so well that it’s almost unnerving: at any one moment half the audience are laughing while the other half are suppressing tears. The house lights remained on throughout, and you can see Mulvany gazing into the crowd, responding to the audience, increasing the temperature, or allowing a few moments for reflection.

Kate Mulvany in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Brett Boardman.

While Mulvany clearly relishes the theatrical challenges the text throws up, she lets the audience know in the program notes that she feels especially connected to this text because her soul mate committed suicide when he was 32. She writes that ‘when this play was put in my hands, it took my breath away. Here was everything I’d ever wanted – an honest, communal conversation between friends and strangers on mental health … just a simple exploration of the brilliant things in life, even when there are shadows, even when there is despair.’

Director Kate Champion notes that Every Brilliant Thing is almost not a play because ‘Its form is stripped down to the essentials which allows the simple act of communion with others to define its nature and ultimate purpose.’ She notes that we ‘give our failing bodies far more press than we give our fragile minds.’

This is a must-see show; one that will probably be talked about for years, certainly a showcase of the abilities of one of the nation’s finest actors, and likely a theatrical experience you will never forget.

Rating: 5 stars ★★★★★

Every Brilliant Thing
By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe
Director: Kate Champion

Co-Director: Steve Rodgers
Starring Kate Mulvany

8-31 March 2019
Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir

Oliver Wakelin
About the Author
Oliver Wakelin is a PhD candidate, Reviews Editor at Southerly, a WAAPA acting grad, and runs a writing blog at