By Vanessa Hunt
Playwrights Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe teamed up to create the refreshing play Every Brilliant Thing, a one-man show which follows the heavy theme of a son trying to support his mother through her depression, but does it in a heart-warming, many times humorous narrative. The show was so well received that it led to a television adaptation on HBO. As they wrote together, the two men wanted to ensure their story was entirely honest and straightforward.
Duncan Macmillan is an English playwright and director. He is known for multiple plays he has written, co-written, or adapted, including Lungs; People, Places, and Things; Every Brilliant Thing; and 1984. His major plays usually deal with contemporary socio-political issues, ranging from addiction and recovery to depression and suicide. He grew up watching a lot of classic plays, but he didn’t decide to start writing his own plays until he read Far Away by Caryl Churchill. Macmillan counts many playwrights as having influenced him, including Churchill, Wallace Shawn, Robert Holman, Martin Crimp, Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht, Anton Chekhov, William Shakespeare, Katie Mitchell, and Pina Bausch. He has also been influenced by writers he has established friendships with (https://www.standard.co.uk/ go/ london/ theatre/ play-talk-duncan-macmillan-on-writing-impossible-adaptations-and-theatre-as-a-workout-for-the-a3518401.html).
Macmillan’s success began with the Bruntwood Playwriting Competition at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. He won two awards for a play called Monster. In addition, the play was nominated for a TMA Best New Play Award and a Manchester Evening New Best New Play Award. Now his plays have been performed around the world, from England and the United States to South Africa and South Korea. Other notable awards and nominations for Macmillan include a nomination for Best New Play at the Olivier Awards for People, Places and Things and a UK Theatre Best Director award for 1984 (https://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Duncan_Macmillan_(playwright)).
At the age of thirty three, Macmillan co-wrote an adaptation with Robert Icke of George Orwell’s 1984. It first played in England and has since moved to the U.S. This was not his only collaboration, though. He has frequently collaborated with British director Katie Mitchell. These collaborations have included the play 2071 at the Royal Court Theatre, plays at Theatertreffen and Festival D’Avignon, and the film Unseen. He also notably collaborated to co-write Every Brilliant Thing with Johnny Donahoe.
While he has been called the playwright of his generation, Macmillan says that he is “forever going to be a student of the craft of play construction and how and where you place the cinematic moment of a story.” He may have written many critically acclaimed plays, but what makes him truly great is the fact that he continues to learn and find ways to make his craft even better. Even though he is a brilliant writer, Macmillan’s first love is music. He was previously a DJ and is an avid music collector. In speaking about his love of music and his love of writing, he says that you should do what you love most as a hobby and what you love second as your job (https://www.jigsaw-online.com/ blog/ uncategorized/ in-conversation-with-playwright-duncan-macmillan.html).
Jonny Donahoe was born in 1983 in Dublin, Ireland. While he is well known for many of his creative projects, he is best known for being the frontman for the comedy band Jonny and the Baptists. Further showing his comedy chops, Donahoe frequently performs as a stand-up comedian. His writing career expands further than just his collaboration with Macmillan for Every Brilliant Thing. In addition, he wrote “30 Christmases, which premiered at The Old Fire Station in Oxford and then moved to the New Diorama Theatre in London, and he has an upcoming series called Josie and Johnny Are Having a Baby (With You),” which will air on the American Podcast Network (http://www.jonnydonahoe.co.uk/). This is a collaboration between Donahoe and his partner, Josie, as they await the arrival of their first child. Donahoe is known for blurring the line between art and real life.
30 Christmases showcases Donahoe’s musical skills as it’s a play with songs about alternative Christmases. Like Every Brilliant Thing, this show does not shy away from traumatic experiences. When he writes, he draws from personal experiences. When speaking about his collaboration of Every Brilliant Thing with Macmillan and approaching the theme of mental health, Donahoe said, “I do struggle in so far as I’m not a trained professional when it comes to mental health issues. Duncan and I undertook an enormous amount of research for the play and it draws on a number of true stories from both of our lives” (https://www.thestage.co.uk/ features/ interviews/ 2016/ jonny-donahoe-having-never-liked-christmas-i-wanted-to-write-a-christmas-show/). Donahoe has performed the one-man show over 300 times. He approaches his performances by always trying to elicit laughter. In regard to the issue of depression that he is presenting, he has said, “The only way to deal with it is to be open and up front and talk about it and share and not just share but hopefully share humor” (https://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/ charleston/ every-brilliant-thing-star-jonny-donahoe-talks-suicide-depression-and-finding-the-humor-in-it-all/ Content?oid=5965923). Donahoe’s comedic approach to heavy topics is a unique way in which he takes what he is good at and utilizes it to reach an audience while talking about something that may be uncomfortable for many.
Donahoe has received a couple of award nominations for his performances. In 2014/2015, he was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Solo show for Every Brilliant Thing. This show had a very successful run off-Broadway in New York City.
Macmillan and Donahoe’s collaboration for Every Brilliant Thing is unique. Macmillan first wrote the play as a short story, which then turned into a monologue. However, it became what audiences see today once Donahoe came on board and added his skill of working with audiences. The entire form of the play then changed. These two artists have created something wonderful together that brings a sad show to an audience, but it also comes with laughter and joy, a theme that seems to pepper the lives of Macmillan and Donahoe as they work to remove the stigma of talking about mental health and one’s feelings. (https://www.standard.co.uk/ go/ london/ theatre/ every-brilliant-thing-jonny-donahoe-and-duncan-macmillan-on-the-show-that-charmed-the-world-a3656001.html).