I’m a Phoenix, Bitch at the Battersea Arts Centre: the disarming potency of a phoenix rising from her ashes
Alberto Tondello reviews I’m A Phoenix, Bitch, Bryony Kimmings’ first solo performance in nearly a decade.
If you were wondering why Brynony Kimmings has not performed in almost three years, appearing on stage for the last time in 2015 with Fake It ‘Til You Make It, you will almost certainly find the answer in I’m a Phoenix, Bitch. In a show that is as much a narration of personal trauma, as it is a way to heal scars which are still dangerously exposed, Bryony Kimmings lays bare her last couple of years without holding anything back. Dealing with breakups, postpartum traumas, intimate guilts and anxieties, I’m a Phoenix, Bitch shows Bryony Kimmings in all her strengths and weaknesses while confirming her incredible skills and originality as a performance artist.
If it is one thing to deal with personal shit, and another to deal with personal shit and then make art about it, Kimmings’ show is undoubtedly an example of how to successfully do the latter. Adapting the therapeutic technique of “rewinding” for the stage, and using it as her main narrative frame, Kimmings reconstructs key moments of her last four years through little sketches, performed in front of miniature settings gradually unveiled like objects stored in an attic. While they deal with anxieties and false motherhood expectations, these sketches are highly comical, sung as if part of a musical theatre performance and filmed with different camera effects reproducing Instagram filters or creating a black and white horror movie setting.
A miniature reproduction of a cottage in Oxfordshire, inhabited on stage by pocket-sized Kimmings and ex-boyfriend Tim, is the only setting not to be dismantled, becoming one of the focal points of the show, and the main site of Kimmings’ growing disquietude. Following a sense of impeding catastrophe, the show progressively leaves the light-hearted tone of its opening and quickly darkens. What appeared as a perfectly crafted bucolic scene starts to crumble under the heavy weight of a breakup and a rare illness affecting Kimmings’ four-month child. Almost defeated by invented fears, real difficulties, and a doubting inner voice – humorously rendered in the pitch of a male producerpossessing the traits of an emotionally abusive middle-age man-, Kimmings forcefully strikes back, refusing to drown or be burnt to ashes.
The show unravels as a fairytale gone wrong, mixing eerie music and mime with intimate confessions. While the dialogue between miniature and life-size Kimmings works extremely well in maintaining the balance between recollected story and present testimony, the climactic moment where Kimmings is running through a projected forest remained unconvincing. Astonishing as a projection, the video-gamey undertones of the scene almost stripped away some of the gravity of the situation.
Overall, the show is a skilfully crafted narration of personal traumas, and successfully avoids the self-indulgence that autobiographical pieces risk falling into. While Kimmings could not have dug deeper into her traumas, and her ability as a performance artist creates a show which will not fail to resonate with its audience. Likely to feel shattered at the end of the show, the audience will also be inspired by the strength of a woman who proved herself tougher than any of the traumas she faced. Much like the mythological creature in the title of her show, Bryony Kimmings has risen from the ashes, returning back on stage with disarming potency.
I’m a Phoenix, Bitch will play at Battersea Arts Centre until the 20th October, 2018.
Feature photograph: Rosie Powel