EDINBURGH 2019: BWW Review: BRYONY KIMMINGS: I'M A PHOENIX, BITCH, Pleasance Courtyard
This is my fourth go at this review and I'm still not happy with it.
You just wouldn't explain this show in a nutshell. If you had to, you might say that I'm a Pheonix, Bitch is an autobiographical piece which chronicles a deeply horrendous time in Bryony Kimmings' life, through the years 2015-16, and the loss of her relationship, her mental health, and, nearly, her child.
The telling of her tale is done through myriad elements, and it worked for explaining trauma, which is - by nature - beyond representation. So, I'm going to 'do a Kimmings', and look at some of my standout parts of the experience.
In the beginning...
There's 'old Bryony', from before the trauma, who wears a snazzy orange sequinned dress and a wig. She tells us about her previous work, and (once a week, not every performance) introduces Katie, the BSL interpreter.
Bryony is this friendly, mesmerising bundle of stage presence. Katie Fenwick is an intuitive performer who maintains her own spark while so impressively emulating Bryony's work.
...the incredible little miniature sets that pepper the stage. David Curtis-Ring's designs instantly transform the show from an edgy pop video, to a black-and-white horror, to a contemporary art installation. He takes the phrase 'attention to detail' to a level beyond.
As the show moves between these sets, the show gets darker.
A doll's house!!!
It's a replica of the cottage she lived in at the time. Bryony, via a livestream from a handheld camera, shows every tiny feature of it.
It initially depicts an ideal home - a glorious shag-pad for a loved-up couple- and then becomes the scene of her depression and grim isolation as she looks after her unwell child, Frank.
It's an exceptionally clever tool in creating clarity as the facets of the story unfold.
...by Will Duke are delicate and otherworldly. They help to communicate the more abstract part of Bryony's traumatic experience during her post-natal depression (''I lost my mind', she surmises).
Seemingly suspended in mid-air, Bryony moves through a series of ethereally beautiful visuals. It looks a bit like a children's paper scene book: layers of fragile silhouettes that frame the artist as she wanders lost through woods, or becomes trapped in flames as the cottage burns.
It's less about what you see, and more about how you're feeling. You're lonely, you're confused, you're terrified.
And, somehow, you begin to understand the thing you've been told is incommunicable.
I'm a Pheonix, Bitch is an extraordinary piece of art...
The unbounded love Bryony has for her son, Frank, permeates every corner of this show. It's a glorious and generous thing to share with an audience.
It's her warmth, and the way that she tucks her spectators under her wing for the journey, that makes this feel like a rare theatrical experience.
It is a manifesto for empathy, firmly in the realms of genius.
I'm a Pheonix, Bitch is at Pleasance Courtyard until 25 August.
Photo by Tristram Kenton