Every Brilliant Thing

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

Rebecca Northan Shines Brightest in Delightful Every Brilliant Thing

There are a million reasons to go see the Grand Theatre’s production of Every Brilliant Thing, but there is one reason that stands above all else. It is the “thing” that shines brightest and exudes brilliance, and that is its star Rebecca Northan.

One-person productions are challenging enough. One-person productions, in a “round”-style set up where audiences have the intimacy and connection to the actor, are even more demanding. But to successfully mount a production that combines that level of intimacy with an element of danger through audience interaction and improvisation, is nigh impossible.

But when you have someone as talented, funny, and warm as Northan then the impossible is possible.

Northan won over audiences hearts in 2018 in the wonderful Blind Date. That play, like this production, is best described as structured improv, although Every Brilliant Thing has much more of a foundation in narrative and plot.

The story is alternately heartwarming and heart-wrenching. It is the story of a woman who grows up in a family living under the cloud of depression. To combat that, almost unknowingly, Rebecca’s character starts compiling a list of “Every Brilliant Thing” that she loves in life.

We move through her childhood and teen years, towards university and her marriage to Sam. Along the way, we explore her relationship with her father, her mother, and music.

And while it is a one-woman play, it’s liberally assisted by audience participation. The theatre-style in the round facilitates not only intimacy, but inclusion, as some audience members are chosen to play key roles, while others are afforded short participatory prompts.

One of the greatest compliments that I can give to Northan is that she embodies this role so fully and completely that it feels autobiographical. She is so at ease in the character’s skin, effortlessly weaving through remembrance after remembrance, whilst juggling interactions with the lovingly coerced audience participants.

The improvisational component allows for the development of moments of pure delightful surprise and joy, thanks to unexpected audience reactions and Northan’s in-the-moment experiences. During premiere night, there were multiple times when it appeared Northan was legitimately touched by the interaction, which, in turn, allows the audience to share in that level of intimacy.

In 2018 I wrote in my review of Northan’s Blind Date that her performance was “spontaneous theatre that is structured to allow magic to happen.” Patrons of Every Brilliant Thing will again feel that magic – and be able to do so in a far more intimate environment.

The play is 70 minutes in length – give or take a quarter of an hour. And despite offering participatory opportunities, Northan clearly respects people’s level of comfort. No one is forced to join in and all participants are treated lovingly and respectfully. Again, as I wrote last year, “her intelligence, charm, and razor-sharp wit results in the creation of a theatre-full of willing suitors.”

The play itself is a celebration of life and the small joys that we may take for granted. It’s about living life appreciating the little things in life that are brilliant in their own right. It’s safe to say that Rebecca Northan is one of those brilliant lights to which we have the honour to be exposed. And Every Brilliant Thing is a show that lets us experience that joy.