Having had more than a passing acquaintance professionally with depression and suicide, your ageing reviewer, learning that "Every Brilliant Thing" addressed those issues, felt that he should go – viewing it rather like a visit to the dentist – not likely to be fun, but probably therapeutic.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Once we sat down, a young man, whom I took to be a stage-hand, gave the young woman beside me a piece of paper, and asked her to read the short sentence on it following a particular cue.
It turned out that the young man was James Roland, the sole actor in the one-man show. And that over a dozen of the audience interacted with him during the course of the play inter alia as father, teacher, veterinarian, counsellor and lover.
Our protagonist's mother (when he is seven years old) attempts suicide, and he begins a list to give to her about the things that make life worth living.
Ice cream, spaghetti Bolognese, people falling over, having someone to check your teeth for broccoli. And the list grows, much of it read by audience members. Through school, and university the list expands.
Initially it is a cause of deep embarrassment when a young woman discovers it, and then (spoiler alert) it is the cause of their getting together.
Although laugh out loud funny at times, the comedy and the puns (a cat named "Margaret Scratcher" brought howls of laughter) do not trivialise the pain and trauma. By humanising the characters the play helps us empathise with their understated and very real tragedies.
The "Irish Times" reviewer, Peter Crawley, puts it well
In director George Perrin's fleet, unadorned production, staged in the round, audience involvement is enlisted with a gentle touch. But more than generating entertaining frisson, it actually becomes part of its meaning. When irresponsibly reported, the narrator learns, suicide can be contagious. But in the right circumstances, so is joy. In Donahoe's endearingly bright production, we have someone looking for connections – in his mother's responses, at the door of his father's study, in kindly schoolteachers or severe lecturers, and in exchanges with a loving accomplice. We provide another kind of connection, a stand-in for people cheeringly ready to listen and assist, and as the narrator's adulthood darkens with complexity, that support becomes more important than any compilation.
I went to the play hoping that drama might do what it does best, help us to feel our way into an understanding of the impact of depression and suicide, but, perhaps understandably, not expecting enjoyment.
That empathy is undoubtedly there, but through warmth, and humour and gentle evocation of joys and tragedies, this play moves us by its honest humanity.
James Rowland, whom we initially thought to be a stage-hand, epitomises "art concealing art". The success of the play rests on his shoulders – it, and he triumph.
Without trivialising its tragedy, this play manages to be uplifting moving and ultimately life-affirming.
Seeing "Every Brilliant Thing" needs to be added to the list of things that enhance our lives.