REVIEW: Shared Space Theatre in Every Brilliant Thing, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, until Saturday ****

Alan Park in one of those “things in stripes” that makes the seven-year-old boy’s list of brilliant things in Every Brilliant Thing
  1. Make a list of reasons why you should see Every Brilliant Thing.
  2. Thank Duncan Macmillan for writing Sleeve Notes, his book of lists.
  3. Thank actor Jonny Donahue for helping Macmillan to turn it into a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe and in London and New York.
  4. Put yourself in the shoes of the seven-year-old schoolboy who writes a list of every brilliant thing, every small miracle, to make his suicidal mum realise life is worth living.
  5. Ice cream.
  6. Water fights.
  7. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.
  8. The colour yellow.
  9. Things with stripes.
  10. Rollercoasters.
  11. People falling over.
  12. Often ordinary things, but brilliant in their own way.
  13. Mum keeps trying to take her life, and so he keeps adding to the list.
  14. You should do the same. Make a list, I mean.
  15. Especially if you are feeling listless.
  16. Start now.
  17. Well, not until you have read this review.
  18. Thank Theatre@41 supporter Cate Birch for recommending Every Brilliant Thing to chair Alan Park.
  19. Thank Alan for reading it.
  20. Thank Alan, professional actor to boot, for deciding he should perform it himself.
  21. Thank Duncan Macmillan for saying yes to York’s new company Shared Space Theatre making it their debut production.
  22. Thank Alan for asking Maggie Smales – responsible for York Shakespeare Project’s best ever production, the all-female Henry V – to direct him.
  23. Thank brainbox Alan for having the mental powers to remember the script for his lead role in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing and Every Brilliant Thing in quick succession.
  24. Thank his Maths teacher of bygone years for Alan being good with numbers. So many numbers, one for every brilliant thing on a list now running to 1,000,000.
  25. Alan doesn’t have to remember all that list but he does have to remember what goes with each number that features in the show.
  26. And remember a running order that is not as easy as 123 to remember.
  27. Because it is not in numerical order.
  28. And sometimes a number is repeated.
  29. And repeated.
  30. Again.
  31. Much later.
  32. It all adds up to a breathtaking and sometimes breathless display of skills in breaking down theatre’s fourth wall.
  33. Result: The audience immediately feels part of the hour-long show.
  34. Whether reading out a brilliant thing from the list on a number cue.
  35. Or having fun when gently enticed by Alan into playing a role.
  36. Such as?
  37. A teacher with a sock puppet of a dog, requiring Alan’s recruit to remove a shoe and sock to play the part.
  38. Or the boy’s father, but then switching with Alan for him to play the father and you, the son, en route to hospital, asking “Why” in response to everything he says.
  39. Why?
  40. Because that’s what children do.
  41. Why?
  42. Don’t ask.
  43. Later play the father again, this time in a wedding breakfast speech…revealing a Texan accent.
  44. Prompting Alan’s character – he has no name – to comment on suddenly discovering unexpected American roots.
  45. Describe a woman with an orange top and blonde hair from Macmillan’s story…and promptly ask a woman in the front row in orange, with blonde hair, to play that character.  
  46. Make eye contact with another female member of the audience.
  47. She happens to be an actress, serendipitously. A rather good one.
  48. Flo Poskitt.
  49. One half of Fladam.
  50. York’s musical comedy double act with Adam Sowter.
  51. Catch them in Green Fingers at next week’s TakeOver Festival at York Theatre Royal.
  52. May 27, 3pm.
  53. Box office: 01904 623568.
  54. Or
  55. She willingly plays a woman called Sam with whom Alan’s character bonds over a love of books.
  56. They fall in love.
  57. They marry…after Flo’s Sam goes down on one unsteady knee to propose to him in an equally unsteady voice.
  58. Prompting a comment from Alan.
  59. He’s good at that.
  60. The impromptu stuff.
  61. Off the cuff.
  62. On the mark.
  63. It all helps that we are seated in two rows in the round, with no-one allowed upstairs under Macmillan’s strict rules of democracy to create a shared experience.
  64. There are a few empty chairs.
  65. But that’s good.
  66. Because Alan is only too happy to occupy any empty chair, next to whoever, and spring from chair to chair.
  67. Because, as George Osborne once said: “We are all in this together.”
  68. Although not in Chancellor George’s case, we weren’t.
  69. But definitely in Every Brilliant Thing.
  70. The list keeps growing.
  71. Music.
  72. Lots of music.
  73. The way Ray Charles sings “You” in Drown In My Own Tears.
  74. But not jazz.
  75. Instrumental jazz, to be precise.
  76. Music that “sounds like it’s falling down the stairs”.
  77. Music to signify you should stay out of dad’s way at that moment.
  78. The marriage ends. Wham bam, exit Sam.
  79. The list stops.
  80. Suddenly.
  81. Well past 800,000.
  82. Only to start again years later.
  83. Like suddenly revisiting an old diary and feeling inspired to begin Dear Diarying all over again.
  84. Alan’s character has a serious point to make.
  85. Suicide. Don’t do it. There has to be something to live for, he says. Hence the list. Hence this show.
  86. And if the play has troubled you, Alan will be on hand afterwards to talk about its themes.
  87. This week’s production happens to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week.
  88. More details at
  89. Every Brilliant Thing does address depression, suicide, death (beginning with the family pet), but it is uplifting, joyous, funny too.
  90. A difficult balancing act.
  91. But negotiated skilfully by Macmillan and Donahue, and now Park and Smales. Never glib. Often profound. Comforting. Thought provoking.
  92. Life changing?
  93. You decide.
  94. There are still three opportunities to see Every Brilliant Thing.
  95. Tonight at 7.30pm.
  96.  Tomorrow at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.
  97. At the venue that won Best Entertainment Venue at Thursday night’s YorkMix Choice Awards 2023.
  98. Congratulations, Alan and all the team at Theatre@41.
  99. Another reason to…
  100. Add Every Brilliant Thing to your list of what to do this weekend. Box office:

“It really is one of the most uplifting plays I’ve ever read,” says Alan Park as he stars in Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing

Alan Park: So happy to be performing Duncan Macmillan’s solo show Every Brilliant Thing. Picture: Ben Lindley

YOU are seven years old. Your mum is in hospital. Your dad says she has “done something stupid”. She finds it hard to be happy.

You make a list of everything that is brilliant about the world. Every small miracle to make mum realise life is worth living. 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.

Prompted by a mother’s attempted suicide, what starts as a small gesture turns into thousands of entries that follow the boy throughout a life spent trying to define and capture happiness.

That list’s mission to prove life is beautiful is the basis of Every Brilliant Thing, a one-man play based on Paines Plough playwright Duncan Macmillan’s short story Sleeve Notes, adapted for the stage with input from actor Jonny Donahoe.

Settled after two years of improvisation and Donahoe performances at the Edinburgh Fringe, in London and at New York’s Barrow Street Theatre, Macmillan’s text now forms the debut production by new York company Shared Space Theatre, directed by Maggie Smales.

Theatre@41 chair Alan Park will be on home turf, performing the solo show only weeks after stepping in to play the lead in York Settlement Community Players’ production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing at York Theatre Royal Studio.

Alan Park and Victoria Delaney in a scene from York Settlement Community Players’ April production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing

“Everyone I have spoken to about doing it has said ‘oh, we need that show now more than ever’,” says Alan. “A friend [Theatre@41 supporter Cate Birch] suggested we try and book the show to tour into York but when I read it, and found there were no other productions around, I decided to apply to do it myself.”

Much to Alan’s delight, Macmillan gave his approval to Shared Space staging a production in York. “It really is one of the most uplifting plays I’ve ever read. It’s a brilliant thing,” says Alan. “The world does feel a bit of a challenge right now, not just because of the Covid years but for longer than that.

“What I like about it is how it responds to our tendency not to focus on brilliant things but on things that go wrong, so we then miss out on appreciating the obvious things, like ice cream, which is the first thing on the boy’s list that becomes a list of 1,000,000.

“On the list at number 123,321 is palindromes, which a nice joke on the meaning of ‘palindrome’, while number 2,001 is movies that are better than the book such as 2001: A Space Odyssey], but basically it’s saying the best things in life are just ordinary.”

Every Brilliant Thing will be staged in the round, lending an intimate atmosphere to Theatre@41, where the audience will play a crucial role in compiling the list of brilliant things.

“The result is an unforgettable communal experience that reminds us of the power found in connecting with the people around us,” says Alan, whose production run coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week (May 15 to 21).

“I’m loath to call it a play about mental depression as it’s about brilliant things,” says Alan Park

“I’m loath to call it a play about mental depression as it’s about brilliant things. The great premise within it is that the audience can play their part, though you can be as involved or uninvolved as you want to be.”

Director Maggie Smales has emphasised the need for Alan to be fleet of foot in each performance. “I have to react to whatever happens. Equally, the audience has the chance to play characters within the story, such as a teacher and the boy’s father, and you have to be prepared for the possibility of everybody’s reaction being different.

“That’s why it’s difficult to rehearse as you will have to come out with all these possible responses.”

Macmillan has decreed that the audience should be seated as democratically as possible. “No-one will be sitting upstairs as that wouldn’t be democratic,” says Alan. “There’ll be two rows of seating in the round, with a very blurred line between the performer and audience and no theatrical lighting, no props and no set.

“It’s very much a storytelling show and that’s partly what drew me to it, that emphasis. I don’t mind shows with sets, but they can be distancing, whereas what you want to do with a show like this is engage people directly in a story for an hour with naturalistic storytelling.”

Shared Space Theatre in Every Brilliant Thing, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office:

List entries as a teenager in Every Brilliant Thing include:

Number 324: Nina Simone’s voice.

761. Deciding you are not too old to climb trees.

995. Bubble wrap.