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Interview with James Rowland (Every Brilliant Thing)

11 July 2017
Interview with James Rowland (Every Brilliant Thing)
Every Brilliant Thing (Tue 11-Sun 16 Jul) is a play about depression and the lengths we go to for loved ones. According to the Guardian, it's also "one of the funniest plays you will ever see". This hit play has toured the world and even sold-out its last run at Pavilion in 2016, and now it returns with a new star: James Rowland.
Broadway World magazine sat down with James to discuss his experiences performing this highly unique and personal play, and we can share that very interview with you here on our blog.

On getting the lead role in Every Brilliant Thing...

BW: What was it like getting the part? Had you seen Every Brilliant Thing before?
JR: I went to see the show at Roundabout at Summerhall in 2014 and absolutely loved it. I got that ‘I’d love to do this show’ feeling. I think during the first 18 months of the show Jonny [Donahoe] was on tour almost constantly. He said if it ever gets to a point where the show is continuing but he needed a break he’d like me to take over. Then last summer I was doing my first one-man show, Team Viking, in Edinburgh when Jonny decided not to do the New Zealand and Australia tour in 2017 – he’d done it nearly 400 times so quite reasonably wanted a break! What was wonderful about the way it worked out was that George [Perrin] could come and see me perform in Team Viking, a one-man story-telling show, so that served as a sort of informal audition.
BW: So you got the offer then went into rehearsals – how were rehearsals? Were they joyful? Challenging? A mixture?
JR: It’s funny because I obviously knew the play very well by the time we had started rehearsing – and for a show that was initially created with audience participation in rehearsals, it was a very different process because all of that work had already been done. Working with George [Perrin, director] has been a real joy because I think his directing process is wonderful, in that he is incredibly detailed and clearly aware of every aspect of a show, especially this one which he knows so well. And we made sure we had lots of people coming into the rehearsals, audiences to perform to, even when I was still on book. It’s just lovely, wonderful, interesting and challenging work.

On the role of audience interaction in Every Brilliant Thing...

BW: Audience members play characters in the show. For example, an audience member becomes the Dad picking your character up from school. Many of your interactions with the audience are improvised - what is the biggest curveball you’ve been thrown so far?
JR: The biggest curveball… I can’t remember an instance of somebody doing something that’s particularly unwelcome, because most people want the show to work even if they don’t give you the answers you’re necessarily expecting, they’re giving you responses to the situation as they’re seeing it and that’s all that counts. Every night will have moments that are entirely different from anything before. And the audience can tell that’s real and that’s what makes it so special. One of the things I say when I hand out the list entries to people who are a bit nervous is that it doesn’t matter – there’s no such thing as getting it wrong. It’s a very gentle interactive show. People are used to any element of interaction in a show having an edge of threat, like either you’re being set up to be laughed at or if you get it wrong then somebody will have a go at you, whereas any of that wouldn’t work with this show at all.

On the topic of mental health...

BW: Is it fair to say Every Brilliant Thing is a very caring show?
JR: Absolutely, there really is no element of it where it’s being incautious with people’s experiences and mental health issues or any sort of personal experience. The piece is a wonderful part of the growing conversation about mental health
BW: Do you think that’s an important conversation? 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem so it is almost inevitable that in a room of 50+ people there will be a significant portion of them who are bringing that with them.
JR: Oh absolutely. There’s absolutely no chance that you would ever be performing to a room that wasn’t bringing that with them. The wonderful, encouraging thing about being a part of the story in this show is that in 2014 when I first saw it, it felt like the first time I had ever seen anything that addressed mental health issues in a normal, straight down the line, conversational way. It felt like a conversation starter, whereas now doing it myself it feels like a part of an ongoing conversation.

On James's own list of brilliant things...

BW: And finally, what would you put on your list of brilliant things? I found one the other day that was submitted via Facebook. ‘Finding out your children’s favourite dinosaur is a turkey dinosaur’. I loved that one.
JR: Haha! I found a fantastic one: ‘Trying to sound sarcastic but getting it wrong so people think you’re really genuine’. I think personally, because it’s all about moments, my brain doesn’t work in a way that cataloguing things. Friends and animals tend to be very high up in terms of things that I would include.
Thanks to Paines Plough and Broadway World for this great interview. Every Brilliant Thing is running all this week, Tue 11-Sun 16 Jul at 8pm with 5pm matinées on Sat and Sun. Tickets are available directly from our website at no extra fee, or you can call our Box Office on 01 231 2929.