Every Brilliant Thing: laughter in the dark

Theatre director Nanette Brimmer speaks to Teodor Reljic about teaming up with actor Alan Paris for yet another one-man show, following the duo’s memorable 2013 production I Am My Own Wife. Now, they will stage “the funniest play you’ll see about depression” as they take on  Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing

Director-actor team Nanette Brimmer and Alan Paris
Director-actor team Nanette Brimmer and Alan Paris

What attracted you to this script, and why did you think Alan Paris would have been well-suited to play the lead role?

I watched Every Brilliant Thing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year. It was highly recommended by a friend and I’m so glad I took her advice. What I loved most about the script was how the author, Duncan Macmillan, managed to present a play that deals with a meaningful topic such as depression, yet is so gloriously funny and exceptionally warm. It has its poignant moments yet it is surprisingly uplifting and anything but depressing! In fact, it has been described by The Guardian as “the funniest play you’ll see about depression”.

The ‘story’ starts off with how a seven-year-old boy deals with being told that his mother, who suffers from suicidal depression, can’t think of anything worth living for. He takes that literally and in a desperate effort to cheer her up, starts to compile for her a list of every brilliant thing in the world, in the hope of giving her reasons to want to stay alive. The list starts with simple items: 1. Ice cream 2. Water fights 3. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out of your nose – all things that, at seven, sound really brilliant. But the list continues to grow, and the items become more specific, and by the time the boy has reached adulthood, goes to university, and gets married, the list has thousands of entries.

The solo actor could be played by either a male or a female. I had toyed with the idea of having a female, but I enjoyed working with Alan so much on I Am My Own Wife that I opted for an encore. Alan has the talent and the charisma required to draw the audience into this lovely piece of storytelling, to make them feel as comfortable as though they were in his living room, listening to his tale. This is crucial for the production since his role as the ‘narrator’ will require a little bit of participation from the audience, and that is where his ability to improvise and to put them at ease comes into play. 

Alan Paris has the talent and the charisma required to draw the audience into this lovely piece of storytelling, to make them feel as comfortable as though they were in his living room, listening to his tale


‘I Am My Own Wife’ was certainly a landmark performance for Maltese theatre, in many ways. Why do you think it worked so well in the end, and how much of that would you attribute to your dynamic with Alan Paris?

Again, this was another play I had watched at the Fringe, but it took six years to finally bring it to the stage. It certainly was a landmark performance and both Alan and I are so proud of it. I did so much research for that production, as did Alan, that in the end, we felt we knew Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. I went as far as taking a trip to Berlin to visit her Grunderzeit Museum. Her presence could still be felt. 

I suppose it worked so well firstly because we both wanted to do justice to her incredible life – we became so ‘possessive’ of her, more so Alan who had to interpret the role – so we told her story as best as we could and I hope we did her proud. Secondly, because we don’t get many opportunities to see one-actor shows locally – and that is precisely the reason I set up Exit Stage Right, so I could fill that niche. 


What kind of experience would you say Every Brilliant Thing creates for the audience, and what kind of challenges did it present to you as a director?

Every Brilliant Thing is an interactive, heartwarming, and life-affirming piece of theatre that genuinely embraces the audience – in fact it couldn’t really happen if the audience didn’t lend their imagination to the enterprise. It’s the collaboration that makes this show so engaging and such fun. The audience are invested in this story in which the highs and lows of depression are so honestly yet humourously depicted. They help make it bloom, and that’s a truly brilliant thing.

The challenges for me in this production were not so much as director, but rather as producer. As always, finding a suitable venue proved difficult, more so since this performance has to be played in the round. I eventually set my sights on the new Undercroft Cafe which provides an intimate space, and the owners have been extremely helpful in assisting us with our requirements. 

As a director, the one thing Alan and I are mostly hoping for, and relying on, is that our audiences immerse themselves in the spirit of the play and give us their co-operation. This is essential to the production as they are an intrinsic part of it. 

The theatre scene is moving forward in a healthy manner, but unfortunately, I feel it still lacks the full support of the public who are rather selective on how they spend €15-€20


What do you make of the local theatre scene? What would you change about it?

Lots of exciting things are happening on the local theatre scene. The amount of talent among young, upcoming actors is amazing. I have noticed a massive increase in creativity, leading to more adventurous theatre, more experimenting of skills and innovation. It is a very inspiring time for aspiring actors and there is more collaboration with those of more experience sharing their knowledge, and training them.

Venues, too, are no longer limited to a handful of ‘proper’ theatres. We now have plays performed in underground locations, touring on a bus, Shakespeare performed in a pub. The massively successful Ziguzajg festival has thankfully become an event which is sowing cultural seeds into the very young. So, yes, the theatre scene is moving forward in a healthy manner, but unfortunately, I feel it still lacks the full support of the public who are rather selective on how they spend €15-€20 which, compared to prices you’d pay overseas, is reasonable. The standard of productions keeps reaching new heights and it deserves to be acknowledged, appreciated and duly compensated. 


What’s next for you?

Not much in the immediate future. Directing two major shows for the MADC last year –  Shakespeare at San Anton and Panto – proved rather stressful due to personal commitments which restrict my time and the dedication required in such big scale productions. However, smaller scale productions I can handle well and I do have a couple of scripts in the pipeline... they require a small cast and are, therefore, suitable for Exit Stage Right. 


Every Brilliant Thing will be staged at The Undercroft Cafe, Old Theatre Street, Valletta on November 17-19 and 24-26 at 19:45. The play is rated 15+. Bookings: http://ticketline.com.mt/ 


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