Ice cream, pillow fights, superhero films, gully cricket, the colour yellow… A seven year old boy, whose mother is undergoing depression, makes a list of things to cheer her up. ‘Every Brilliant Thing’, a moving story about love, life, family, mental health and all that makes life worthwhile, recently had its first digital showcase with Paytm Insider. The stage setting gave way to a live online platform and was performed on Zoom.
The play, originally written by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, has been adapted to an Indian context.
Its director, Quasar Thakore Padamsee, says it was one of the few plays that he came across, where in the staging notes, it is recommended to adapt the play to the culture that it is performed in. Since the creators wanted to make the story as honest and true as possible, they borrowed heavily from the life of its lead actor, Vivek Madan. In fact, they even crowdsourced elements for the ‘list of brilliant things’ from various people in Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Staged in an in-the-round setting, the uplifting play shares the joy found in everyday objects while exploring complex emotions that encompass mental health. “It sets out to tell a very human story—about an unremarkable man who did a remarkable thing when he was a child,” says Padamsee. So, while the play touches on depression, suicide and other facets of mental health, it is in the backdrop. In its essence, the play is about a man and a list he started when he was a child, and how that list still impacts him today. “For a play that’s seemingly about deep, dark things, it’s incredibly light and fun, and wonderfully warm and life affirming,” says Padamsee. He adds that this was exactly what attracted him to the text in the first place.
Elaborating on the play’s unique participative setting, Padamsee says that it is one in which the actor needs the support of the audience to take the story forward. “It’s a collective community experience, so everybody must be able to see everyone else. Otherwise, it’s a performance and not a sharing,” he says. In the past, Padamsee has dealt with other contemporary social concerns in his plays. His theatre company, QTP, tries to tell stories that help give an insight into various current scenarios.
‘So Many Socks’, which was a part of Mahindra’s Excellence in Theatre Awards in 2013, was an exploration of the concept of home and belonging told through Tibetan refugees; ‘A Peasant of El Salvador’ looks at the events in the 1970s that led up to their decade long civil war; and ‘Project S.t.r.i.p.’ is about how we are complicit in the extermination of indigenous peoples.
On whether people compare his craft with his father, Alyque Padamsee, the junior Padamsee quips, “We are creative beings, and each of us has our own obsessions in form, content and style. We try to present that on stage as we see fit—whether it is large scale or small.” Looking ahead after ‘Every Brilliant Thing’, he says he is looking for a new piece of writing— something that properly encapsulates this incredibly polarized time in our history. Apart from that, he is busy with some “fun, weird projects”. Recently, he created a small piece about artistic freedom based on and for an exhibition of the 1954 case of obscenity against his uncle Akbar Padamsee. He is also working with a group of dancers to look at the commonalities between Odissi and contemporary dance.