I’m a Phoenix Bitch, Battersea Arts Centre

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by Laura Kressly

Theatremaker and performance artist Bryony Kimmings hit rock bottom a few years ago. Her relationship was breaking down, her infant son was ill and her mental health was in tatters. To recover from the trauma, her therapist recommended a technique where she replays the traumatic events in her mind like a film. What better way to regularly go through this exercise than perform it every night?

Kimmings compartmentalises key moments of the last four years in individual sets resembling children’s toys. There’s a kitchen, a country cottage, a corridor with a window overlooking the garden and others that she crawls into to play out her memories in chronological order. Makeup and wigs emphasise the playacting necessary to process trauma this way, and live video feeds cement the cinematic metaphor. She adds in some genre performance styles – horror, romcom, adventure – and songs to add levity and emotional connection, climaxing in a remarkable sequence of sound and projection.

Despite the scale and spectacle that give this show the ability to play large venues – which it deserves to – the transitional moments are quiet and intimate. Kimmings chats to the audience and opens her soul with a gentle honesty, maturity and strength that is the by-product of motherhood and this series of awful events. We also hear from her mum and learn about her little boy. Yet the juxtaposition of small against large is not clumsy or unfocused.

The entire show is dramaturgically tight, emotionally engaging and a rallying cry. Drawing on myth and bodily strength in an ending that encapsulates her fight, she inspires us to keep going through the rough times that try to drown us.

I’m a Phoenix, Bitch runs through 20 October.

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