The upside of being down

Art February 22, 2016 01:00

By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to

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Better living through interactive theatre in the British play “Every Brilliant Thing”, set for this week at Chulalongkorn University



Thanks to the British Council, I watched 24 dance and theatre performances in six days last August in Edinburgh and came back with one firm favourite – “Every Brilliant Thing”. 
A life-affirming comedy with plenty of jokes, high-octane energy and connection between the one performer and his audience, what struck me most and stayed in my mind was one line: “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”.
Now the play – or least its “tradaptation” – is coming to Bangkok and will soon be raising the spirits of local theatregoers.
The synopsis of this “new play about depression and the lengths we will go to for those we love” and based on both true and untrue stories reads, “You’re seven years old. Mum’s in hospital. Dad says she’s ‘done something stupid’. She finds it hard to be happy. So you start to make a list of everything that’s brilliant about the world. Everything that’s worth living for: (1) Ice Cream (2) Water Fights (3) Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV. (4) The colour yellow. (5) Things with stripes (6) Rollercoasters (7) People falling over. You leave it on her pillow. You know she’s read it because she’s corrected your spelling. Soon, the list will take on a life of its own.”
Having been staged on both shores of the Atlantic, the play has garnered many favourable reviews. 
Critic Lyn Gardner wrote in the Guardian that it’s “Heart-wrenching, hilarious...possibly one of the funniest plays you'll ever see about depression –and possibly one of the funniest plays you'll ever see, full stop.”
And for the off-Broadway run in December 2014, New York Times’ Ben Brantley wrote, “Mr MacMillan’s play, though often very funny, is fully aware [that] in the face of great loss and depression, a real effort of will is required to recall why it’s worth continuing with life. That will is the force that animates ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ and keeps it afloat for the captivating hour of its duration.” 
While the original cast member and co-writer Jonny Donahoe, performing this play now in Australia, is a man, MacMillan notes, “The narrator can be played by a woman or a man of any age or ethnicity” and “The play should always be set in the country it’s being performed and references should be amended to reflect this.” 
With this in mind and again with support from the British Council, Chulalongkorn University’s Department of Dramatic Arts is staging “Chiwit Di Di” with three professional thespians, – a woman, a man and a gay – and from three generations – 24 to 44 years of age. They’ll be taking turns on different nights and at different time to tell their stories.
 They are veteran actress Sumontha Suanpholrat, the first recipient of IATC Thailand’s award for best performance by a female artist for her role in “The Chairs”, comedian Konthorn Taecholarn, the co-host of “Proud Night” TV programme, and Panuwat Inthawat, who was seen as an actor in “4 Sisters+1” and staged “Drunk” as part of the first Bangkok Queer Theatre Festival two years ago. 
Sumontha says, “My biggest challenge is to forget the familiar mode of performance in which the audience is passive and be ready for the continuous and direct interaction with the active audience, which is always unpredictable from one evening to another.” 
Panuwat quotes a few lines from the play he loves: “Things get better. They might not always get brilliant. But they get better.” He adds, “Another fun thing about performing this play –and it’s my first solo performance – is to blend the ‘world’ of the character with mine: my list of ‘brilliant things’, songs that have special meaning in my life and people in my life.”
 For his part, Konthorn says, “What I’m telling you in this play are not facts, but truths. Some are true stories of the two British playwrights, others are mine. After the show, I hope you care more for your life, and think of ‘brilliant things’ in your life, no matter whether you’re happy or not. And you know, I really want to read your list of ‘brilliant things’. Show it to me!”
Prepare for another unique theatregoing experience.
 WHAT’S WITH
THE DOG?
 n “Every Brilliant Thing” runs from Thursday to Saturday at Chulalongkorn University’s Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts, a 10-minute walk from BTS Siam exit 6. It’s in Thai with English surtitles.
n Shows are at 7.30 nightly plus 2pm and 5.30pm on Saturday.
n Tickets are Bt 600 (Bt 300 for students). For more details, call (081) 559 7152. For more details, www.Facebook.com/dramaartschula.