What I learned from the play Everything Brilliant Thing

An interactive play by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, Every Brilliant Thing was showcased at the Jameel Arts Centre in dubai

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A still from Every Brilliant Thing at Jameel Arts Centre
A still from Every Brilliant Thing at Jameel Arts Centre

By Sharmistha Khobragade

Published: Thu 9 Jun 2022, 5:30 PM

It’s rare to get anything for free in Dubai. Or even cheap. I’m a sucker for freebies. My idea of heaven is a free workshop, but free theatre comes a second close. Living in Dubai, one of the things I really miss from home, apart from the Mumbai rains, is access to theatre. When I lived in town, I regularly went to see plays at National Centre for Performing Arts or NCPA, often by myself, because which 20-year-olds are interested? I have fond memories of all the NCPA theatres.

When I moved to Dubai, I was terrified it would not offer venues for theatre — fortunately I was guided to Al Serkal avenue early on and then my fears of not having any other entertainment but mall-walking were laid to rest. Admitted, the range and choice of the plays is limited, but at least, they are there. Even if more expensive to watch than I’d prefer. So, when I heard about the theatre group Junction staging a play called Every brilliant thing gratis, I signed up in a jiffy. It was a bonus that the play was at a stunning venue, Jameel Arts Centre, perched prettily at the Jaddaf Waterfront with a creek behind.

I Googled the play, and found it was about a girl who makes lists of things to live for, for a mother who has attempted suicide. I didn’t read more because I didn’t want spoilers, but the topic tugged at my heart strings immediately and I knew that I would go for this play. Why? Because I am that little girl, as well. Well, I’m a grown woman, but just like the little girl in the play, I am a daughter whose mother has attempted to take her own life, thrice.

The play is more about the little girl’s (well, actually boy in the version I saw) coping strategies — from making lists of ‘brilliant’ things — such as ice cream and water fights to finding solace in listening to music and reading the record sleeves of her dad’s LP collection — rather than the depressed mother, which is good. The play was not all gloom and doom, in spite of the heavy subject matter. It was, as The Guardian review I’d read on the web said, the ‘funniest play you’ll ever see about depression’. Part of the fun came from the interactive style of the play — it was right that the play was free, because audience was involved in the staging by playing some of the roles (and since they weren’t getting paid for their labour… you get the idea). Seeing the untrained audience who’d been made into makeshift-actors grapple with their lines and roles was hilarious.

Despite this, I did cry, at two points, as I’d expected to. One was when the protagonist was reading out the Samaritan guidelines for reporting of suicides in the media. The second was when the mother finally dies, in her third attempt. I was wary of crying in public, and to prevent myself from doing it, I dressed up and put on some heavy eye makeup before the play, so that the makeup doesn’t run down my face and make me look like a clown. It didn’t work. Fortunately, the eye shadow was water-resistant and resisted flowing down my cheeks with my tears and smearing them golden.

Do you see what I’m trying to do here? I’m trying to lighten this writing up, just like the protagonist in the play is doing by creating those awesome lists. But the truth is, it doesn’t help. Not the lists and not my dubious jokes. There’s no other way to say it — seeing a loved one suffer from mental illness and attempting to take their own life is the rawest, more visceral kind of pain, one will ever know. The only thing that can help is more open conversation about mental illness. So, meanwhile, do try and talk about your feelings if you’re dealing with such issues. You never know who needs to hear it. A point to add on the list of brilliant things — people who can talk about difficult things.


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