Bryony Kimmings is back – back with a vengeance. On stage, she’s dressed in an orange ASOS sequin dress and a blonde wig – Dolly Parton would be jealous. This is a flashback. Our protagonist fills us in on events since she last trod the boards. By her own admission ‘I’m a Phoenix, Bitch’ is an insight into her collapse into postnatal depression and her subsequent re-emergence.
While this is not traditionally the theme for a good night out. Kimmings’ excellent handling of this subject matter is poignant, macabre and at times comically bizarre. Kimmings’ previous incarnations saw her material deal with diverse subjects such as contracting a STI and revisiting past lovers, in ‘Sex Idiot’. In ‘7 Day Drunk’ she drank continuously throughout the day in order to assess if there really was a link between alcohol consumption and creativity; and in ‘Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model’ she took on the meaty subject of modern culture’s (and by that she means the music industry and social media) manipulation of children.
With this pedigree, tonight’s performance was never going to be your standard boy meets girl love story. Sequin dress now discarded and replaced with the more comfortable black cycle shorts and sports vest; Kimmings proceeds to bring us up to date with the details of her life – to this end she (like many artists) is transparent about her willingness to plunder actual events from her life in order to produce material for her shows. I believe the adage here is ‘write about what you know’…
Kimmings informs us that she has PTSD and has been having ‘rewind’ therapy – this involves revisiting the key moments in your life that may’ve triggered your anxiety. This is the premise for the piece as we traverse from 2011 (where she comically seduces Kevin’s father) to 2016 where she nearly drowned; to the present day. We see her meet Tim and follow the harrowing journey from seduction to the fabled and well executed drowning. Each event is handled exquisitely and is marked by a miniaturised prop on stage, which is projected (by her) on to a large screen so it often feels like we’re having a cinematic experience. Along the way we’re given an insight into weaknesses and insecurities that exist in most of us but adversely cripple some more than others. In this instance becoming pregnant sets off a chain of events that have a tragic impact on both her and her relationships with those she loves dearest.
This performance provides a blow-by-blow account of why there was no fairy-tale happy ending for her. Kimmings divides her time on stage talking to us (the audience); her ‘leaking critical inner monologue’; and a Dictaphone. To us she provides the narrative arc of the story. She’s conversational in tone and every so often her thoughts on men, Torys or NHS underfunding are interjected. Her ‘leaking critical inner monologue’ is that voice of doubt we all have – except here it booms so we can all hear it. It constantly pokes and prods Kimmings, chipping away at any shred of confidence she may have. The Dictaphone is used to record messages for her four-year-old son; typical stuff like, how her day’s been, how she’s feeling and what precautions to take in the event of the impending apocalypse.
This show points a finger at society and asks why aren’t we more honest with each other? At key moments during the play Kimmings openly admits that there were things she knows now about relationships and childbirth that she wishes she’d known earlier. Her portrayal of abandonment and isolation in the play, mixed with her pervading sense paranoia makes for a heady blend of drama and tragicomedy.
At 90 minutes this performance flashes by at a breakneck speed and is over before you know it. You are, however, left in no doubt that you’ve been on an exceptional journey.
Kimmings comfortably carries the whole piece. Her energy is boundless as she plays all the key parts. She operates camera equipment. Arranges set designs and engages in puppetry. The scale of this piece is truly ambitious in its scope. Her use of filmic projection and audio contributions; clever, catchy & seductive song lyrics; as well as her cutting wit lift this piece from what could have been a heavy and depressing subject to something more life affirming. This one woman show takes no prisoners and pulls no punches, it’s a tour de force and should be seen at the earliest opportunity.★ ★ ★ ★
Bryony Kimmings presents I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is at Home, Manchester from 28-30 November 2019. Please note this production is not suitable for people under 16-years-old. The performance contains sexual references, strong language, haze and smoking.