Coming hot on the heels of his Best Actor win at the recent Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards, Andrew Marko stars in yet another affecting play that not only tugs at audiences’ heartstrings, but also delivers a very powerful message about mental illness.
In this solo show, Marko, brimming with boundless energy, stars as an unnamed six year old growing up with a depressed mother. Being the jovial and filial kid that he is, what’s a boy to do but cheer up his mum with the only way he knows how – coming up with a list of a thousand ‘brilliant things’ to be happy about, from a bar of chocolate, to even Christopher Walken’s hair, and there’s bound to be at least one thing on the list that will strike a chord with audience members.
Every Brilliant Thing is a play that’s heavy on audience participation. At the start, audience members are only required to read out the items listed on post-it notes Marko gives them as he numbers them off in the course of the story. Later on though, the play becomes even more dependent on them, as Marko begins introducing other characters into the mix as he encounters them in various stages of his life, from a vet who puts down his beloved pooch (“That was my first experience with death,” he says, “A loved one becoming an object.”), to a school counselor who had a habit of taking off his shoes, and turning one of his socks into a sock puppet. Marko sits himself down in strategically placed chairs and asks audience members to embody and portray said characters, and become part of the performance.
Audience members are of course, not obliged to follow through, but it’s better if they do, bringing these characters to life as a visual indicator of their existence and capturing their subtle nuances in simple responses. Thankfully, we had a very enthusiastic audience, which made this performance of Every Brilliant Thing brim with heart and laughs. One of the highlights capitalized on Andrew Marko’s singing voice, and he employed two audience members to roll a keyboard around the theatre as he sang a medley of songs, so that every audience member could get a full 360 degree experience of the makeshift gig.
Marko’s performance itself is a kind of brilliant thing. It’s of course, impressive that he’s able to recall and match every item on the list to its corresponding number, reflecting a well-rehearsed performance, but his unnamed character was also unabashedly frank and forthcoming, easy to listen to and relate to. Marko is very capable of thinking on his feet, reacting to audiences’ varied reactions quickly and nimbly balancing the laughs and the heavier, more emotional lines of the script, managing to wield even the silences in between for dramatic effect to express the passage of time, and you can practically feel every moment of love and hate emanating from his character, culminating in the fully realized, three dimensional adult character he becomes, bearing the weight of all his burdens and joys.
“Things might not get brilliant but they get better,” Marko says during the play. Every Brilliant Thing never makes itself out to be some kind of miracle cure for depression, but it’s certainly a baby step in the right direction in making it less of a stigma to open up to and talk about, allowing others in to help on the long road to recovery, and certainly, an interesting insight as to how a child might experience and cope with such family issues.
Immersive and engaging, Every Brilliant Thing hits hard and represents fringe-type theatre at its finest – work that’s a little quirky, possessed of a little off-kilter humour, yet urgent and powerful enough to move mountains, and Bhumi Collective have done a fine job at bringing it to life. We can’t wait to see what more they bring to the stage in future, but for now, do yourself a favour and get a ticket to the scintillating Every Brilliant Thing.
Photo Credit: Ruth Smalley
Performance attended on 19/4/17.
Every Brilliant Thing plays at the Centre 42 Blackbox till 23 April. Tickets available here