Home >Lounge >Features >‘Every Brilliant Thing’: A play about mental health for our times

Last year, Quasar Thakore-Padamsee’s heartwarming play, Every Brilliant Thing, opened to rave reviews. Adapted from British playwright Duncan Macmillan’s original, this solo act by Vivek Madan was a sensitive story about a family which had to deal with complex mental health issues. Performed in an intimate setting, Every Brilliant Thing took the audience back to a time when the protagonist was 7, with his mum in hospital. His father told him she found it hard to be happy and he decided to make a list of things to cheer her up. In this story of a child trying to deal with a parent’s chronic depression, the audience played a key role, volunteering ideas and helping to take the story forward. Now, the play is back. The stage setting has given way to a live online platform, with Every Brilliant Thing being performed on Zoom.

This seems to be a play for our times, when the pandemic has brought issues of loneliness and depression to the fore. The makers have tried to keep the interactive aspect intact by encouraging “voluntary" participation from viewers and a post-show conversation. If someone doesn’t want to interact, they can let the production team know.

Thakore-Padamsee and his theatre company, QTP, took some time moving into the digital space. “During the lockdown, we saw a lot of people putting out content. But we had no such impulse to put up anything as we weren’t very excited about performing to the camera," he says. But early into the lockdown, in April, Thakore-Padamsee realized that several people he knew were struggling with the mental trauma of social isolation. “Vivek Rao, Toral Shah (the producers) and I met over a Zoom call and agreed that this was an important story to tell at this time," he says.

About the same time, the team from the online events platform Insider.in also approached him to adapt the play to the digital medium. However, instead of rushing into the production, Thakore-Padamsee and the team took a couple of weeks to simply explore the idea. “Duncan Macmillan is a genius—to be able to talk about something so dark in such a joyful way," he says.

Every morning, the team would rehearse for 2-3 hours. Thakore-Padamsee had never worked with the camera, so that was a “weird" experience for him. Various members of the team operated from different cities—Madan in Bengaluru, Thakore-Padamsee in Mumbai, the stage manager in Nagpur, the rehearsal assistant in Lucknow, and so on. “I just want to clarify that this is not a play online. Because there can be no such thing. A play needs a live audience sitting together, sharing the space with the performers. This is a re-imagination of the play into an online story-sharing experience," he explains.

Obviously, there are differences, like the way Madan modulates his voice and responds to the audience, or welcomes viewers into his home rather than to an empty stage. “He (Madan) feels we will have to rehearse all over again once we go back to the stage," says Thakore-Padamsee. “Vivek is really a remarkable performer. When we first started doing the play, the only thing I did was to get out of his way. This is his show."

Early into the rehearsals, Madan felt the need for a brief chat with the team after a show. Thakore-Padamsee extended the idea to include viewers in this informal conversation. So, there is a 2-minute break when the play ends, followed by a conversation with a mental health professional. People talk about their struggles, or how to reach out if someone they know is struggling. “Then Vivek [Madan], Toral and I hang out in the Zoom space, like we would normally do backstage. The viewers can choose to stay back, listen to the music or the conversation, or leave," he elaborates.

Every Brilliant Thing opened on Zoom last weekend, with a digital licence for eight shows. “The rules of how rights are handed out are still based on earlier classifications of 'live', 'digital', 'broadcast', and more. I think that's one more thing that might have to be adapted, since this medium is likely to become part of the new normal," says Thakore-Padamsee.

'Every Brilliant Thing' will be performed online between 31 July-2 August, 7pm. Tickets available on Insider.in.

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