Ice cream, skinny dipping, laughing so hard you shoot milk out your nose… Every Brilliant Thing is a play about all the things that are worth living for. Ahead of the show’s Perth season, Nina Levy spoke to performer Luke Hewitt (with a cameo from director Adam Mitchell) to find out more.
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Content warning: this article refers to suicide
Luke Hewitt is no stranger to Perth audiences – he’s been performing on our stages with local companies for over 25 years and Every Brilliant Thing will be his 16th production with Black Swan State Theatre Company. Further afield, Hewitt has performed with the likes of Sydney Theatre Company and Belvoir, in addition to appearing in numerous television and film productions.
Nina Levy: Hello Luke – thanks for talking to me about Black Swan State Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Every Brilliant Thing, by British playwright Duncan Macmillan.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had the opportunity to see Every Brilliant Thing in Perth – the original UK production was presented at Perth Festival in 2016. For those who didn’t catch it then, it’s a solo show that tells the story of one boy’s response to his mum’s suicide, with the help of audience members who takes on roles such as his father, friends and allies.
In spite of the serious subject matter, however, the play is anything but sombre and has been described by The Guardian as “one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see about depression – and possibly one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see, full stop.”
From your perspective, as the work’s sole performer, how would you describe Every Brilliant Thing?
Luke Hewitt: It’s a unique kind of show for a performer. It feels more like telling a story to people who’ve come around for dinner than performing a show.
It’s unique for the audience, too. The house lights never go to black. Everyone can see everyone and there is no traditional “fourth wall” experience separating the audience from the story. They are included in the telling of the it, which I feel magnifies that feeling of a shared experience, of familiarity, of understanding. It’s funny, it’s sad, its heart-warming all mixed together.
NL: What drew you to Every Brilliant Thing?
LH: All of the aspects of the show in my previous answer, really.
As a performer, of course every gig is different. However its difference is most often within that familiar framework of a play or a musical, for example. I’ve never done anything like this before and that’s exciting.
The production is also a massive creative workout for an actor. There are serious roles, comic roles, musical roles, romantic roles, dramatic roles and so on, but this production includes all of these at times throughout the story. It’s hard work but ultimately very satisfying.
NL: The play involves audience participation, which can make some punters nervous. Can you reassure us on that front?
LH: Yes, there is some participation. Most importantly, it’s handled with kindness and respect. No one is making anyone cluck like a chicken or bark like a dog or dance or make fools of themselves. We are all involved in the telling of this story.
NL: A one-person play is demanding at the best of times… adding audience participation into the mix seems next-level! What are the rewards and challenges of the audience participation element?
LH: Yes, a one-person show is a challenge. But the audience aspect of this piece I think is what makes it a special experience for everyone, me included. The experience of the story is made richer for the audience through their involvement, and mine is made richer each night because it adds a level of unexpectedness and excitement that I don’t know what’s going to come out each night.
NL: Although Every Brilliant Thing is a humorous play, it deals with depression and suicide. How do you look after participants, and the audience as a whole, in a production that looks at these difficult issues?
LH: The play itself has been meticulously crafted with regard to this. Yes, it is dealing with a very difficult subject, but I feel it is less about suicide itself. Rather it’s about the ripples that such an event has throughout a person’s life. It’s something that there are few degrees of separation from, for a great many of us. I feel that the heart, the hope and the humour in the play, and its familiarity, the fact that we all have had some connection to this tragedy, that no one is alone in this experience, is a great support both for me and the audience.
NL: At the play’s centre is a list of all the things that make life worth living. In an interview with the ABC, Jonny Donahoe, who acted in the play’s debut season, acknowledges that such a list won’t “combat hard-wired depression”, and that this isn’t the play’s aim.
What, then, do you think is the play’s intention? And what do you hope audiences will take away from it?
LH: Of course. There are two lines in the show that were an “aha” moment for me.
The first line is, “I realised how much the list had changed the way I see the world.” I love that because, although the list is started by the protagonist as a way of proving to someone else that there are brilliant things in the world, things worth living for, the list ultimately proves that to himself.
And the second is, “If you’ve lived a long life and get to the end of it without having felt crushingly depressed, you probably haven’t been paying attention.” And I think that’s the intention of the play. It’s a celebration of life and all that living is. And living is hard, and sad, and dark at times. For everyone. But it is also wonderful and loving and brilliantly bright. And we just need to find a way, anyway, whether it’s a list of brilliant things or whatever to remind us of that.
NL: The last time Perth audiences saw Every Brilliant Thing was pre-pandemic. Adam, as the show’s director, how do you think the pandemic context might change the way it’s received? Have you made any creative decisions around the context we’re currently inhabiting?
Adam Mitchell: Post-pandemic, the play feels much more potent and is a reason I believe it was programmed at this time. The small moments of participation we ask of the audience and the little missions that are built into the play really help bring the audience right into the action. It all revolves around connection and community and I wonder if that is a great antidote to our experiences with COVID, the many lock-downs and hard borders.
Every Brilliant Thing is touring regional WA:
Every Brilliant Thing is also touring regional Victoria: 22-25 September:
Pictured top is Luke Hewitt. Photo: Philip Gostelow
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