‘If you live a long life and get to the end of it without ever once having felt crushingly depressed, then you probably haven’t been paying attention.’
Every Brilliant Thing is a list made by a child attempting to make their mother feel better after an attempted suicide. As the child grows, so does the list. Jonny Donahoe performs Duncan Macmillan’s monologue which engages with the audience in hopes of spreading understanding about depression.
The text describes the Werther Effect, which explains that suicide is a social contagion. The name of the Effect comes from Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, which was said to have caused a burst of ‘emulation’ or ‘copycat’ suicides imitating Werther’s manner of death. Though it was never proven, David Phillips, who coined the phrase ‘the Werther Effect’ noted, ‘authorities were sufficiently apprehensive to ban the book in several areas.’ Every Brilliant Thing draws attention to the devastating effects of depression. In an interview I did with Macmillan, his concern for empathy is clear. He said, ‘We will always be peripheral to some crushing loneliness and sadness in someone else and we need to be more alert and empathetic to that.’
The Werther Effect extends beyond fiction, to the frenzied media portrayal of celebrity deaths. The text describes The Samaritan’s media guidelines for reporting on suicide, avoiding words like ‘successful’ or detailed descriptions of the methods used. Every Brilliant Thing was playing in Edinburgh around the time of Robin Williams’ death in 2015, and Macmillan explains that audiences would leave the theatre seeing the news spread over the front pages, being described with all of the examples they had just been advised to avoid.
For a play about the saddest traits of humanity, Every Brilliant Thing is unexpectedly joyful. It picks out the littlest and loveliest moments of ordinary life, trying to prop up the sadness with love like cushions. What Every Brilliant Thing shows is that depression can’t be countered by good things, but it can make you add infinite value to them. (KW)
Every Brilliant Thing played at 15.15 in the Roundabout @ Summerhall through August 28 - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/every-brilliant-thing
My interview with Duncan Macmillan https://katewyver.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/duncan-macmillan-every-brilliant-thing-with-added-extras/
The influence of suggestion on suicide https://www.jstor.org/stable/2094294?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Mass media influence on suicide http://www.psyter.org/inglese/articolo.php?ID=220
Media guidelines for the reporting of suicide http://www.samaritans.org/media-centre/media-guidelines-reporting-suicide
How to get help if you’re feeling suicidal http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/what-speak-us-about/i-want-kill-myself?gclid=CjwKEAjwrvq9BRD5gLyrufTqg0YSJACcuF81nDH5kowA48vFP04Y17zVm6CzyGSyoKAYNQlwfGfQiBoCvYbw_wcB
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sorrows-Young-Werther-Classics/dp/014044503X