NS reviews

Reviews of theatre and art in Nova Scotia and beyond

Mark Delaney makes Every Brilliant Thing “somethin’ else eh?”

Photo: Corey Katz

Mark Delaney has nerves of steel.

The Sydney actor, all alone, surrounded by strangers in a brightly lit church basement with tape on the carpet and salt stains on the floor, conjures up a story of sadness and survival and it’s hilariously funny.

“Something else eh?” a woman says to me, a complete stranger, at show’s end.

The magic trick in British playwright Duncan Macmillan’s much-produced, 75-minute Every Brilliant Thing, running to Feb. 25 in a Highland Arts Theatre production, is that the actor can only tell the story if he gets help from the audience.

If I were an actor – and only twice have I been on stage in experiences that led to panic, nausea and exceedingly high body temperatures – I would run for the high hills from this one.

But there is Delaney, relaxed, casually dressed, cool as a cucumber, right at the entrance before the show handing out props to people from book covers to a mustard bottle, each with a phrase the audience member must shout out loud during the show.

Because Delaney is so laid-back, friendly and funny, he turns an audience of strangers into a group of friends. The communal experience is precious; Delaney gets an immediate standing ovation at show’s end.

Every Brilliant Thing starts with a little boy and his beloved dog Sherlock Bones (an audience member becomes a vet and my pen a needle for this scene) who grows up with a depressed mother who attempts suicide. He starts to write a list of “every brilliant thing” that makes life worth living from ice cream to the smell of old books to encourage his mom to keep on living.

While the subject matter is deep and his mother’s depression overshadows his life, the play is full of vitality in the main character’s energy and enthusiasm for life.

Delaney is able to hold all his lines and intended expression of them within his head and turn on a dime to improvise with a lot of humour and wit.

He has excellent comic skills and timing; when an audience member nearly hijacks the show he good-naturedly plays along until he can rein it in.

Directed by Scott Sharplin, Delaney paces from a low-rise stage into the audience, sitting nearly on top of him in chairs placed in a large cross shape of carpeted corridors. This also allows Delaney to get close to his unwitting participants comically eyeing the audience as people wonder, “Am I next?”

The lights of the basement are kept on and the props are minimal in this very low-tech show. It’s as if a wandering minstrel came to town, stood in a square and captured a crowd just by the sheer power of telling a story.

There is some sound because music is important to this family. The dad plays records and the boy loves records and reading liner notes. Delaney also sings (very well) on a portable keyboard held by two audience members in a show highlight depicting a family singsong – it’s all so simple but it lives in the mind as a rare and beautiful night of family joy.

The HAT mainstage is closed until March for renovations and upgrades so this show is in the basement of the next door building, St. Andrew’s Hall, 44 Bentinck St. (not wheelchair accessible; the show may be seen virtually). For tickets at a range of suggested PWYC donations ($25 recommended) go to https://www.highlandartstheatre.com/

Content Warning: This play discusses the subjects of suicide and mental health.

Photo: Corey Katz

Categories: Uncategorized

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