Writer: Bryony Kimmings
Directors: Kirsty Housley and Bryony Kimmings
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Bryony Kimming’s one-woman show already comes studded with so many four and five-star recommendations, it seems almost unnecessary to review it. But here goes. I’m a Phoenix, Bitchis a multi-media restaging of the worst years of Kimming’s life. This is therapy on a grand scale.
In 2016, after the birth of her son Frank, and his subsequent illnesses, Kimmings had a breakdown. Nothing in her life was going well. The relationship with Frank’s father was on the rocks, the bucolic cottage in the depths of Oxfordshire was drowning as water levels from the nearby stream rose, and worst of all, her son continued to have seizures.
Last year, her therapist suggested that one way to cope with the trauma was to restage the crises from this time but to remain distant from them and watch them objectively. In this show, which first opened at the BAC last autumn, Kimmings ‘relives’ episodes from that period in her life. We see her happy, yet vulnerable after the first night with Frank’s father, deliriously ecstatic after Frank’s birth, and debilitated with paranoia as Frank becomes sick.
However, to maintain the distance that her therapist recommends Kimmings uses a persona to recreate these scenes. With the help of outrageous wigs and make-up, Kimmings becomes other characters to safely process the trauma; for instance, as she watches fearfully from her cottage window she becomes someone like Bette Davis or Joan Crawford in a Gothic Hollywood horror. With the help of a camera, we see her huge frightened eyes on a screen on the back of the stage.
Behind this screen, however, are other surprises that take the narrative into the realms of fairy stories or legends or even into horror films like Carrie. With art direction by David Curtis-Ring, projection design by Will Duke and songs by Tom Parkinson I’m a Phoenix, Bitch seems to fill the whole of the BAC’s newly re-opened Grand Hall, and it’s hard to imagine it being presented anywhere else.
Kimmings, who probably is best known for A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, a collaboration with Complicite at The National Theatre, is a confident and likeable performer. It’s easy to forget the things that don’t quite work, like the weightlifting section, which seems a little self-indulgent, or the fact that the show overruns by 25 minutes. It must take a lot of guts and a lot of heart to repeat these terrible scenes from her life.
I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is brutally honest, and is therapeutic for everyone involved, including the audience. Mental illness affects 1 in 6 people in the UK, and this show is an important addition to understanding how we cope with trauma.
Runs until 9 March 2019 | Image: The Other Richard