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The little things in life

A boy creates a list of everything that’s brilliant in the world in a bid to cheer up his mother, and to help her realise that life is worth living as she battles depression in Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe’s play Every Brilliant Thing. The theme of the play, soon to be performed by Anapela Polata’ivao as part of Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival, is a sensitive one, but Guardian reviewer Lyn Gardner describes it as a life-affirming production that takes an unflinching look at the guilt of not being able to make those we love happy.

She also says it is one of the funniest plays anyone will ever see about depression — “and possibly one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see, full stop”.

“As the years flash by and the boy grows up, goes off to university and falls in love, it becomes apparent that maybe the list might even help him save himself.”

Moving along

“We all share common experiences around the topic,” says Polata’ivao.

“It doesn’t make it any easier. The play doesn’t sit in an emotional bubble. It keeps moving along. Every Brilliant Thing ultimately becomes a list of all things to keep you here and keep the present. Then the list takes over and has its own life.”

Polata’ivao will play the part as a girl who grows over time into a woman. Her lists also evolve as a kind of timeline that tracks how she views the world, says the actor.

“She becomes the product of a parent who has left her to fend for herself. The young character has always been left alone and is trying to figure it out. The list is one thing she has control over. It is a complex, beautiful and simple story.”

New Zealand Herald reviewer Paul Simei-Barton said the show does what live theatre is supposed to do.

A story of hope

“It creates a communal space for people to engage empathetically and imaginatively with problems that are too big to face alone.

“While not laying claim to definitive answers, it demonstrates that enthusiasm is contagious especially if it is entered into in a genuine way with the spontaneous acceptance of the joy that is found in everyday things.”

Having performed in the unsettling Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, as well as directing and performing in a script-in-hand production of American playwright Robert O’Hara’s excoriating satire Barbecue, during last year’s arts festival, Polata’ivao relishes the opportunity to explore edgier works.

“Sometimes the hard stuff people don’t want to talk about, I’m all good with. There are a lot of voices that are marginalised, that get swept under the carpet.”

Ultimately, Every Brilliant Thing is a story of hope, says Polata’ivao.

“By the end you’re gunning for your mate to keep going.”

Every Brilliant Thing, 8pm Friday October 9, 8pm Saturday October 10, Te Poho o Whirikoka, Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

EVERY BRILLIANT THING: Actor Anapela Polata’ivao returns to Gisborne for this year’s Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival in which she will perform solo in Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe’s Every Brilliant Thing. Picture supplied