The Bus Stop - Adelaide Botanic Garden
Until 21 Feb 2020

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Few stage shows begin with a bus trip to an unknown, undisclosed location, but “Every Brilliant Thing” does. The journey is indicative of the trust that’s required by both the audience and actor over the next couple of hours; ostensibly a one-man-show about a man who has grown up with a mother who battles depression, it is soon revealed to be far more of a communal experience. Audience members are selected to take on roles throughout the story, and asked to read items from a list of “brilliant things” created by the central character throughout his life. Actor Michael Torontow recalls a childhood, adolescence, and then an adulthood, marked and marred by the experience of mental illness, and the hovering threat of suicide. It’s heavy content, and the play never shies away from this, but as the story is interwoven with the creation of the list, there is a joyful tone to the proceedings; a murmur of happy recognition goes around the room with every addition. There is hope amidst great trauma.

“Every Brilliant Thing” is an exploration of what it means to be happy, and how to deal when we are not. Depression is not simple, and cannot be solved or fixed by merely recalling the good things about life. Our minds and hearts are complex, and have the ability to sink as well as soar. The show portrays these complexities with an innate universality, even when the story is specific. It is sensitive and accurate in its depiction of the insidiousness of mental illness, and the impact it has on those around us, but never feels like it is placing a burden on the audience’s shoulders. The titular list serves as a reassuring touchstone, rather than a solution, as it marks the significant moments in the character’s life in various ways.

There’s an element of risk with a show that is often reliant on the responses and participation of audience members, and while that may cause some a little anxiety, the spontaneity of it all captures how so much of our life experience is out of our control. And not matter what happens, we’re all in it together. Torontow is a deft hand throughout, responding to the audience gently and naturally, while always remaining the central, controlling force bringing everything together again. He is an utter delight to watch; his presence is warm, raw and authentic. The script, by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, deftly balances joy and pain, confusion and certainty, in way that is emotionally resonant, dramatically compelling, and sweetly comforting. Director Steven Schipper shapes it all into an experience that feels more like a thoughtful, challenging conversation than a performance. There are no easy solutions presented, but just the importance and necessity of worthwhile human connection. And that is a truly brilliant thing.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)