Performance artist, comedian and mother, Bryony Kimmings rises from the ashes in new autobiographical show I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, a piece exploring motherhood, trauma and healing.
A darkly funny piece, expertly performed by a badass, intelligent woman.
Classical, melancholic opera music plays as we find large pieces of set in each corner of the stage draped in white sheets. These represent places from Kimmings’ past’: a bedroom, a kitchen, a window covered with wisteria and a cottage on a hill. Bryony Kimmings shoots onto the stage and introduces herself, past Bryony and present Bryony. She recalls past Bryony as a vixen clad in orange sequins and heels, constantly ready to boogie. Present Bryony is sturdier, more serious, and strong. Very strong. She’s relaxed yet constantly brings the energy. She’s a natural comedian and comforts the audience with colloquial chat, like joking about her technician being pissed off by her constant improvising.
Directed by both Kirsty Housley and Bryony Kimmings, the piece is satirical and deliciously feminist. Kimmings is a satire of herself, and she playfully performs each personality trait using big, bold characters such as the ultra-femme-sexy-housewife that she uses to ‘trap’ her one night stand, as well as her hippy-dippy-kaftan-wearing pre-natal self. For each of these characters she sings original witty songs with her smooth, easy-on-the-ears singing voice. She is razor sharp, yet warm and vulnerable.
She talks of her son, Frank, who as a baby began having terrifying seizures. His illness tore her world apart, and subsequently her relationship with long time partner Tim also collapsed. Kimmings discusses therapy techniques that helped to guide her through her trauma, such as repeating the mantra ‘I am strong’, and recording oneself recounting difficult memories. A video camera on wheels is live streamed onto a projector at the back of the stage, and Kimmings records herself throughout the piece. The technology feels exciting and her handling of the equipment is well rehearsed.
Kimmings tells us of her leaking ‘inner monologue’, her inner bully (with a deep male voice). He doubts her, picks on her and begins as a comedic presence. Droning, muffled soundscapes fill the space as Kimmings creates a great feeling of unease when exploring her post-natal paranoia. As the piece darkens and we’re amidst the paranoia, the inner voice suddenly becomes a terrifying dark presence, adding to the feeling of psychological trauma. With spiders filling the house, and the river in the garden rising, she recalls standing at the wisteria filled window every day like a panic stricken damsel in an old black and white movie.
She comes to the conclusion that some people are presented with “just bad luck”. She slogs around the stage in her dressing gown, plodding. Alone. In a show of true physical and mental perseverance Kimmings carries her large cottage set piece to the top of a hill on a pilgrimage to healing and strength. Despite her healing, the piece is just drenched in sadness. The sadness clings to me for hours afterwards. A darkly funny piece, expertly performed by a badass, intelligent woman.