An intense and vital story of motherhood, madness and hope.
By Irene Bell
Don’t go see this show with your mum … or do, I don’t know.
Bryony Kimmings’s latest, I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, is not a gentle and loving portrayal of motherhood. The descent into madness in this autobiographical performance piece is not in any way sexy or mysterious. While the sets are cartoonish, the asides comical, this play is unashamedly real and brave. What an absolute privilege to see this show.
Kimmings is a fantastic writer; her monologue never gets stale and the rapport she builds between her and the audience is almost instant. I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is her story of becoming a mother, a series of traumatic events and how she ultimately finds herself again – or meets and comes to understand her new self, at least. Early on in the show Kimmings says the we are safe with her – this is true, but it doesn’t mean only an hour later you won’t be crying ugly, therapeutic tears.
The staging is wonderfully simple and clever. Four set pieces covered in white sheets wait for the show to begin. Each represents a part or a place in Kimmings’s story. As she uncovers each one, inviting us into her past and revisiting it herself, we are drawn deeper and deeper into the trauma. The separate scenes are delivered with humour and wit, mostly shown through a camera whose filming of Kimmings’s performance is projected onto a screen. The scenes are played as pastiches of various classic cinema depicting women, mothers and female mental illness. It’s tongue in cheek until it becomes too real, until the scene spits Kimmings back out into the monologue, no hiding behind a camera.
I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is the beauty of theatre: at its heart it is a room full of strangers flexing their empathy muscles as we listen to a woman’s story and truly, from the bottom of our hearts, wish her all the best. You wish for a happy ending that doesn’t come, not because the ending is sad, but rather because life goes on. Go see I’m a Phoenix Bitch ready to open your heart to a stranger on stage and her son.
I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is playing at the Arts Centre until 15 September. Tickets can be bought here online (www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/theatre/im-a-phoenix-bitch) or by calling the box office on 03 9281 8000.