I’m a Phoenix, Bitch

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★★★★★ Bat­tersea Arts Cen­tre, Lon­don Un­til 20 Oc­to­ber ho’s up for an off­beat mu­si­cal about post­na­tal de­pres­sion? Wait, don’t go! Bry­ony Kim­mings’ solo per­for­mance is acutely painful in places but it’s ac­tu­ally an easy sell: this is an ex­tra­or­di­nary piece of theatre. I’m a Phoenix, Bitch shows Kim­mings is an artist of ex­cep­tional in­tegrity, com­pas­sion, imag­i­na­tion and guts. The pro­duc­tion is part of BAC’s Phoenix sea­son, re­open­ing the theatre’s grand hall after a dev­as­tat­ing fire in 2015. As such it’s a dou­ble in­spi­ra­tion and a tes­ti­mony both to hu­man re­silience and the heal­ing prop­er­ties of art.

You could de­scribe Phoenix – co-di­rected by Kim­mings and Kirsty Hous­ley – as a sub­ver­sive fem­i­nist mu­si­cal, and it has el­e­ments of a pop video, hor­ror movie, art in­stal­la­tion and ther­apy ses­sion. Like all of Kim­mings’ de­vised works, it’s deeply per­sonal, this time chron­i­cling how in 2015 she broke up with her boyfriend, lost her mind and very nearly lost her baby.

The show is tied to­gether by a se­ries of bril­liant songs, com­posed with heart and wit by Tom Parkin­son and in­ge­niously staged. Kim­mings per­forms them at a num­ber of mini-sets (de­signed with ex­quis­ite at­ten­tion to de­tail by David Cur­tisRing), which are recorded by a video cam­era and then pro­jected on a gi­ant scale. We’re pre­sented with big Kim­mings and lit­tle Kim­mings at once – two sides of the same per­former – as she dons wacky wigs and pokes fun at her­self and her an­tifem­i­nist ten­den­cies. A par­tic­u­lar high­light sees a bog­gle-eyed Bry­ony sing with a quiv­er­ing manic en­ergy, as she fixes her makeup, fries ba­con and lo­cates a rusty man­a­cle to stop her boyfriend flee­ing.

As the show be­gins to warp and darken, Kim­mings per­forms a hor­ror-movie shtick, a manic gym ses­sion and a crazed mime as she strug­gles to con­trol her nar­ra­tive while the world and her doubts (of­ten rep­re­sented by a deep-voiced man) push back against her. A se­ries of breath­tak­ing pro­jec­tions from Will Duke pull us in as we watch her stalk through a loom­ing wood, as the ground col­lapses be­neath her feet. It’s a chok­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing ride as Kim­mings learns to trust in her­self – and in­spires us to do the same.

Miriam Gillinson

Manic en­ergy … Bry­ony Kim­mings

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