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  • Chris O'Rourke

Every Brilliant Thing

Amy Conroy in the Abbey Theatre production of Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Ros Kavanagh


There are performers whose personality risks eclipsing their talent. Amy Conroy being a case in point. Funny, fierce, fearless, with an endearing dash of insecurity, Conroy's brash confidence sees her commanding any stage she walks on. Like a stand-up comedian, Conroy appears larger than life, working the room like a Vegas veteran. Exuding a presence not so much drawing you in as helplessly magnetising you. Making you friend, co-conspirator, the sole focus of her attention. And that's before the show's even started.

Even when the show trades in dark thoughts for little childrern, like Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe’s Every Brilliant Thing, Conroy proves warm, funny, and vulnerable. She cares about her audience, and you wouldn't want to cross her on that. Which is important, as Every Brilliant Thing is all about shifting you comfortably out of your comfort zone into a seat with a better view. On things like suicide, its impact on children and its unspoken legacy. Or the audience's relationship to performance. Things tragically comic and comically tragic. Funny is vital, but it isn't enough. You need dramatic talent to make this show spark. And an awful lot of prompt cards.

Amy Conroy in the Abbey Theatre production of Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Only Conroy doesn't make it spark. She sets it alight. Blazing brilliantly in a stirringly engaging performance, with her supporting cast of fifty or so. Taking us through times joyful and troubling; Sherlock Bones and her first encounter with death, making a long list of life's good things to help her suicidal mother, finding love late in a library, and listening to last years jazz and soul on vinyl while reading the sleeve notes late into the night. Gotta love that Ray Charles.

Such is Conroy's performance it would be easy to miss that the script is patchy at best. Originally premiered in 2013 by Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre, it still has important things to say. Yet it falls untidily between character study, story, and suicide prevention manifesto. Not that we can always prevent suicides. But reminding those in dark places that there are still lights burning brightly, whole constellations of them, Every Brilliant Thing's life affirming exuberance forgives it a smattering of dramatic sins. Such as the tender ending looking untidily like an epilogue after the big finish moments before. Allowing the narrator to connect and improvise with the audience proves a brave gamble. Yet director Andrea Ainsworth shows genius in casting Conroy, who works the round as if it were for a stand-up comedy special. Not so much infusing the script with life as turbocharging it.

Amy Conroy in the Abbey Theatre production of Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

When Chester Bennington, lead singer with Linkin Park, died of suicide in 2017, his wife released pictures of him laughing and playing with his children only days before. She wanted people to know that you can't always see it coming. That blaming and feeling responsible do not help, nor does the way the media frames suicide. All of which Every Brilliant Thing addresses in this sensitive, informative and uplifting show in which a woman tries to live her life in the shadow of suicide. True, there's a little audience involvement, but it's nothing you need worry about. It allows us to share in creating and being affected by the work together. A gentle reminder that we're not alone. Though there are some who might think themselves deserving a nomination in next year's Theatre Awards. As might Conroy's contemporaries in the coming months. But if Conroy's the competition, they might want to hold off rehearing their acceptance speeches just yet. Every Brilliant Thing. A radiant light in the dark that is not to be missed. And the show isn't half bad either. Treat yourself. Don't be afraid to embrace some happiness.

Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe runs at the Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre until January 22 before going on tour.

25 – 26 January: The Solstice Arts Centre, Navan

28 – 29 January : The Droichead Arts Centre, Drogheda

1 – 2 February :At Glór, Ennis

4 – 5 February: Garter Lane, Waterford

8 – 9 February: The Backstage Theatre, Longford

10 – 12 February: The Mick Lally Theatre, Galway

For more information, check venues or The Abbey Theatre


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