It’s emotionally brutal theatre, but Claire Trolio feels privileged to experience the lows and highs of I’m a Phoenix, Bitch.
Review: Bryony Kimmings, I’m a Phoenix, Bitch ·
State Theatre Centre Studio, 26 February 2020 ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·
I meet my friend for a pre-show gelato: two new mums trading tales of the week’s joys and challenges. It’s a candid little ritual that helps us make light of the struggles and relish the wins as we each head into the world for an evening without our respective limpets.
We’re off to see I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, the latest work conceived, written, performed and co-directed (alongside Kirsty Housley) by feminist performance artist Bryony Kimmings, from the UK.
She was last in Perth in 2015 to perform two Fringe World shows, Sex Idiot and Fake It ’til You Make It. That was also the year her life unravelled: soon afterwards she lost her mind, her home, her partner and very nearly her baby boy. I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is about that traumatic time, and her subsequent recovery.
This is heavy. Fusing oral storytelling with cinematic elements of a horror movie, a puppet show and a a few original songs, I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is about motherhood, identity and the ordeal of caring for a very sick child. Parts of the show are agonisingly relatable, while others, fortunately, are not. It’s those parts that tear my heart to shreds.
Kimmings warns of the emotional brutality she’s about to slog at you and promises that she’s okay. Her storytelling refers to her therapy and trauma recovery techniques. It’s cathartic.
I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is largely structured around the rewind technique, a psychology tool often used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, and one Kimmings found effective. The audience is made aware of the depths this show will plunge to before the autobiographical nightmare unfolds.
In telling a story characterised by the loss of control, Kimmings remains in complete control, commanding the room with intensity and power and promising the audience that they’re in a safe space. This work asks who we become once we’re affected by trauma. She accepts the inevitability of heartbreak and exposes both her vulnerability and strength
It’s not all doom and gloom. Kimmings begins the show by reminding us what a brilliant comic performer she is, quickly having the audience lapping up her honest and playful self-awareness. She’s well known for her comedy but, as she points out, the thread that ties her work together is more accurately tears than laughter.
The intimate space of the State Theatre Centre Studio assists in the telling of such a personal story, but I’m a Phoenix, Bitch only works so well because Kimmings is an intelligent and engaging storyteller. You are there with her, you fall so deep that there’s a point in the show where it’s hard to imagine how she can manage to soar again. But she’s a phoenix, after all, and she’ll rise from the ashes and stitch your heart back together before her 95 minutes is up.
As the (largely female) audience filters out of the theatre, no one knows quite what to say. Another old friend grabs me. “I need a hug after that,” she sighs. We’re all reeling from the whirlwind of Kimmings’ extraordinary theatre, but grateful to have been a part of it.
Pictured top: Bryony Kimmings uses video, songs and puppetry to tell her story in ‘I’m a Phoenix, Bitch’.