A man in the audience hands over his Japanese Dictionary. I have my sock on my hand and name it Misty. A stranger proposes to the main actress. These are some of the unscripted, unrehearsed moments unique to Peach Productions’ opening night of Every Brilliant Thing.
Upon entering the Michael Pilch Studio I was immediately struck by the lack of divide between stage, set, and seating. Antique furniture was placed amongst the uniform black chairs of the theatre, all in a circular formation with a focus on the centre of the space. Lead actress Leah Aspden walked around the paredback set with its overlapping patterned rugs and mismatched cushions, handing out small slips of paper and chatting to arriving audience members. Her warmth and the calming jazz and blues soundtrack immediately put us all at ease. I was handed two slips of paper with brilliant things to read out when instructed. It quickly became clear that Every Brilliant Thing wouldn’t be a passive theatre experience. From the very beginning, Peach Productions had me on the edge of my red, crushed velvet seat.
Duncan McMillian’s Every Brilliant Thing follows an unnamed protagonist, embodied by actress Leah Aspden, and her exploration into what makes life worth living in the aftermath of her mother’s suicide attempt. I was concerned as to whether the play’s humorous undertones would undermine the serious extended discussions of suicide and depression present in the play. These concerns were quickly put to rest as directors Lydia Free and Coco Cottam considerately approached these topics, successfully balancing deeply moving moments with others of youthful, infectious giddiness.
Particular commendation must be given to actress Leah Aspden who took on the major task of a one-woman play with grace, infusing energy into each of her lines from the fifty-plus-page script. Her commanding stage presence and adaptability created a safe space of experimentation and vulnerability where audience participation was encouraged. The line between artist and artwork was excitedly blurred as the audience transformed into castmates just for one night; improvising scenes and reading lines when directed. This is the magic of Every Brilliant Thing; its celebration of unpredictability. I left feeling that I could return every night and have it be different depending on who chose to attend.
My one critique would be that the wonderful music drowned out Aspden’s lines and made the audience’s interjections inaudible at times. Lines were forgotten and not all moments of audience interaction went smoothly, but this play is intentionally rugged and fresh; a living, breathing entity with a personality of its own. It is exactly this unpredictability and reliance on the audience which makes Every Brilliant Thing such an impactful piece of art. As Virginia Woolf puts it, “the whole world is a work of art… we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.”
So if you feel drawn to become the art and not just a witness; to put yourself out there and dare to let that childish dreaming take over, I urge you to go see this moving play at the Michael Pilch Studio before its run ends on February 4th. I’m almost certain it will surprise you and perhaps even allow you to surprise yourself.