It was a show that lived up to, and even exceeded expectations anticipated by its title, Every Brilliant Thing.
Mugambi Nthige made sure of that by giving a dazzling performance, filled with high-octane energy that ran the gamut of age and temperament.
It all combined into his being that ‘brilliant thing’ that his character in the play wanted his mother to see and love.
Performed last weekend at Nairobi National Museum’s open-air amphitheatre, the stage was set for a theatre-in-the-round experience.
But that meant the cast had to have 360-degree eye contact to maximise audience enjoyment.
Unfortunately, that was the one disappointment had with people like me who sat behind the actor who gave us his backside 90 percent of the time.
Nonetheless, the show was redeemed by the actor’s focus on interactivity and the involvement of his audience in multiple facets of the play.
Engaging them from the moment they walked down the ramp into the theatre, Mugambi looked like an usher handing out scraps of plain white papers to everyone, each with a number and a word, phrase, or full sentence on it.
One didn’t realise that the play had already begun and you were engaged in its action once you understood you had to be alert since your number might be called.
Mugambi had quickly become the show’s master of ceremony explaining that when your number was called, you were meant to shout out the word, phrase or sentence that you’d been handed.
Then we were advised to close and then open our eyes onto Mugambi the storyteller, keeping everybody on their toes, to speak up, and enjoy the most interactive form of theatre we had ever seen before.
For Mugambi, the shift from one role to another was so natural one couldn’t tell if his lines were scripted or whether he’d become that seven-year-old lad whose mom had tried to commit suicide.
That was when he started making his list of ‘every brilliant thing(s)’. It was a tragic tale but told with such a light touch that you could see why people concerned with mental health and de-stigmatising mental illness love this play.
The lightness derived, in part, from the speed with which Mugambi pinpointed the first person to be implored to play the important role of ‘Dad’, the little boy’s father.
Would that audience member say yes? Did he have a choice? This was where you saw the magnetic charm of the actor, magically engaging a total stranger in his play.
Of course, he said yes, especially as Mugambi came and called him to be seated so that even we could see the performance head-on, and also see the audience’s enthusiasm as the seven-year-old Mugambi quizzed his dad as to “why” they were going to the hospital?
And many other ‘why’s’, which the dad responded to with alacrity and finesse.
So did ‘the child therapist’ who the little boy was taken to by his family.
So did ‘Opiyo’ the sock puppet who listened attentively to the boy’s questions and became his best friend.
And even the young woman picked by Mugambi to play ‘Sam’, the woman the grown-up ‘boy’ met and married, even she played her part with relish and delight, except when she picked her things and left him, claiming he was ‘morose’ and ‘needed help’.
The public may have thought Every Brilliant Thing was Mugambi’s solo show, but not really.
Scripted by Duncan MacMillan and Johnny Donohue, and directed by Julisa Rowe, the script was written to generate empathy and concern for people with mental problems and to see how one man’s mental issues could impact not just a family but an entire community as well.
But there was nothing didactic or heavy-handed, dark, or even preachy about Every Brilliant Thing. Instead, everyone felt the embrace of Mugambi’s electrifying performance.
It was most apparent when he literally ran all the way around the amphitheatre, giving high-fives to everyone who reached out to affirm their participation in this exceptional performance.
One reason the show went so well is that its director Julisa Rowe wisely engaged Mad Fun.com to produce the play. It was Frank Munene’s team who took charge of the technical side of the show.
That included not just the lighting and the sound, but also all the tunes meant to rhyme with various phases and periods of the play.
Julisa, as the show’s director, reminded BDLife that she also had directed Mugambi the first time he’d performed Brilliant Thing in 2016. Both times, the show was nothing short of brilliant!