One actor on stage and the subject matter – mental illness.
While it sounds deep and possibly laying the foundations for tragedy, the intention behind the UK production Every Brilliant Thing was to create an entertaining and hilarious show about depression.
Former stand-up comedian Jonny Donahoe takes the role of narrator amidst a host of other characters, and guides his trusting audience through the course of events in a story about a six-year-old boy whose mother is dealing with severe depression.
Sonia Sly talks to Jonny about dealing with sensitive material, life on the road and the joy of performing in a one-man show:
“We did a lot of research, we watched a lot of TED talks [and] read a number of books. It’s really important to be armed with that knowledge because it is such a tricky subject and it is important to talk about it.”
The 32-year-old says, that unlike having other pain or injury to body, when it comes to hurt in the mind, people are very shy.
“I think it’s very prevalent amongst people who go into the arts, but the simple truth is depression is rife.”
Donahoe is quick to counter that the show is ultimately about entertaining an audience; there is plenty of improvisation and those who come to see the show get to have a hand in creating the world of characters in the little boy’s life as he begins to create a gift for his mother—a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world.
“The only way you can really talk about things that have such a stigma is to laugh at them,” he says.
The show has toured successfully throughout the UK, USA, and is now on its Australian leg before heading to New Zealand at the beginning of March.
In that time they’ve hit the nail on the head with their intended goal – The Guardian named 'Every Brilliant Thing' as the funniest show you’ll ever see about depression.
“The trick to comedy is [having] a warmth and interest in other people, so I always aim to be genuine in myself [and] with this show, I love that you share something with a group of people [who] come into a room very much as individuals [but] they leave it as a group, having had a shared experience. That’s something I’m really proud of,” Donahoe says.
Every Brilliant Thing runs at the New Zealand Festival from 2-5th March.