HOME Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 27th November, 2019
Bryony Kimmings made a cracking start to the year 2015. As her stage entrance to “I’m A Phoenix, Bitch” suggests, the old Bryony was all ASOS sequin dresses, high heels and lots and lots and lots of glamour. But by the following year a perfect storm of convergent personal events involving home, partner and child had left her spiralling into an all-time-low tailspin – with terrifying consequences.
The opening scene is deliciously dramatic – the helpless heroine is chased onto stage, but the villainous scourge that menaces her presents itself only as a male voice – one prone to rude and abrupt outbursts, a rather disturbing know-it-all who gratuitously questions everything that she does.
Is He some unpleasant real-world character from her past? Or is He meant to represent a manifestation of society’s expectations of her? Given that, on stage, Bryony literally bounces from stage left to stage right as she delivers her own self as well as the mysterious male voice, could He just be a disturbing figment of her own imagination?
The intimidating and troublesome voice that plagues Bryony makes regular appearances throughout the show. It seems to represent (and possibly even enforce) normalcy – the normal way to behave, the normal way to think, the normal way to look, the normal way to speak, quite simply the normal way to be – everything else in the performance seems to be an examination of what happens when a person deviates from that prescribed normalcy and starts falling away from the safety of comfortable paradigms.
“I’m A Phoenix, Bitch” is an epic work of autobiographical expression. Bryony’s story is incredibly moving, the events that took place in her life during 2015 are thankfully not something that most people could relate to in terms of personal experience – yet by the end it all somehow feels familiar and understandable.
The chronologically presented events are dressed up in an artistically pleasing theme of horror – not a gory kind of horror, something much more like a black-and-white movie kind of horror involving haunted houses, spooky noises and murky figures staring out of a window.
The theme is sinister, yet it’s delivered in a relatively comical and amusing manner, but at the same time the underlying story of what happened to Bryony is anything but comical. These conflicting presentations conjure up an intriguing and highly evocative entertainment spectacle.
At no point is there any explicit mention of the fact that Bryony was clearly battling with clinical depression. Perhaps where “I’m A Phoenix, Bitch” shines brightest is in the portrayed depiction of its effects, the way in which it is analogised, here the artistic rendering of it seems to make far more sense than anything you might read in a medical textbook.
“I’m A Phoenix, Bitch” is the story of a year in the life of Bryony Kimmings, of events and circumstances that are going to shape and dictate everything that happens in her future. Her story delivers a strong notion of helplessness which builds throughout the show, a daunting sense that things are getting worse and worse as situations develop. A disturbing sense of alarm begins to creep in, an unwelcome contemplation of just how bad this could all get.
But this is definitely not a sob story. In and around delivering multiple characters, Bryony wears what she calls her Sports Direct casual gear: a pair of shorts and a sports top. Throughout the show she regularly displays her strength, literally lifting weights, throwing a few lunges here and there.
“I’m A Phoenix, Bitch” is, therefore, a gloriously uplifting spectacle that pitches good against bad, funny against scary, the strong against the weak – New Bryony is a phoenix who is rising on stage just as she goes about telling the story of how Old Bryony was once sinking like a stone.
Photography: The Other Richard
|Visual pleasure||Four different micro sets on stage, with the action moving from one to the other. Incredible visual effects involving close camera work, projection onto a big screen and animation. An outstanding work of multimedia artistry.||5|
|Auditory pleasure||Beautifully composed music including several songs, a mostly sinister, classic horror-film-like soundtrack to go with the chosen presentation style.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||An incredibly personal story enacted on stage thanks to some brilliant writing and direction. Ever so slightly touching on self-indulgent for just a few, brief moments and overall it felt a little bit too long when persisting some themes after having (successfully) set a mood.||4|
|Artistic delivery||Incredible solo performance involving many different characters, moods and performance styles.||5|
|Overall impact||Very powerful piece of theatre taking the audience deep into a personal story which you could look at as a tragedy – yet the final impression is one of optimism, hope and resolution.||5|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|