Post-natal psychosis affects one to two women in every 1000 after childbirth. Bryony Kimmings is one of them. Her one-woman show, I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, grapples with her experience of post-natal psychosis amidst a veritable shitfest of broken relationships, fractured identity and life-threatening illness.
It’s not a comfortable night in the theatre. Kimmings draws her audience in with wacky humour and wry observations, using a series of playful vignettes which flirt with different modes of storytelling. The opening scene, for example, is a one-woman Godzilla movie with Kimmings, clad in orange sequins and peroxide wig, playing victim and monster. Then, later, house-hunting with her then partner plays out using a curious doll’s house, two figurines and a handheld video camera.
As the story progresses and the calamity unfolds the comedy ebbs away, leaving us trapped in a real-life horror movie. The climactic sequence, where Kimmings experiences a three day trip into terrifying psychosis, is portrayed using layers of projections (designed by Will Duke) over live-action. Stage and screen, reality and fantasy, theatre and testimony blur.
Kimmings is upfront about the purpose of this piece. On a personal level, it is therapy, staring down her pain with an unflinching, unsentimental gaze. On a public level, she urges us to face our own demons – not least the existential threat of ecological collapse – by tapping into the kind of strength that can be unleashed by unimaginable trauma. Indeed, over the course of the show, she demonstrates her own strength, telling of her baby son’s 18-month episode of terrifying seizures while simultaneously lifting weights, her fists going to the sky as her face creases from the effort.
There’s an improvisational feel to the onstage costume changes and Heath Robinson scenery which masks the complexity of the music and sound design (Tom Parkinson and Lewis Gibson) and the extent of technical wizardry required to bring the nightmare to life.
Kimmings pushes the boundaries of the artform as she mixes music and video with funny voices, strange noises and weight-lifting. Not all of it works: some of the jokes land like a fart at a funeral, and the show feels like a long 80 minutes. Nevertheless, I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is dark, daring and defiant theatre from a fearless performer.
Until January 17