In 2015, the grand hall of the Battersea Arts Centre burned down. That same year, performance artist Bryony Kimmings’ life also crumbled, or, as she puts it: “life burnt to the ground…babes”; with the end of her relationship, a postnatal breakdown, and her son, Frank, being diagnosed with West Syndrome. There was a stroke of serendipity when the BAC asked Bryony to perform in their Phoenix season reopening the grand hall, as her show is a testimony to human resilience and the healing powers of art.

The audience isn’t met with doom and gloom. Kimmings has a comedic presence, assuring the audience: “I process my shit first…then I make art about it”. She introduces us to pre-2015 Bryony, specifically 2009 Bryony, decked in an ASOS sequin dress and a gigantic blonde wig. It’s Bryony’s only solo show for nearly a decade and she lets us get to know her first, summarizing her previous works: retracing an STI back to its source, spending seven days intoxicated and becoming a pop star invented by her 9-year-old niece. She pokes fun at herself: “they all had lots of crying”.

But each gag and passing joke has a deeper context. Kimmings hasn’t been onstage for more than two years, previously working on collaborative projects telling other people’s stories. But she has returned to her original solo practice to deal with her own trauma. She points out her therapist’s advice: “in order to get over trauma, learn to tell the story”. With the co-direction of Kimmings and Kirsty Housley, her story is retold in a cinematic, mythical and epic format. This show uses multimedia to create a parallel narrative; with little Kimmings using a video camera to project big Kimmings on the screen; an exaggerated and fictionalized version of herself. We are captivated by the exquisite design by David Curtis-Ring, with the set illustrating Kimmings’ trauma; the Oxfordshire cottage where she lived during her breakdown is presented as a nightmarish dolls’ house. The outstanding attention to detail in the design paints the scene of Kimmings’ trauma so she doesn’t have to subject herself to it.

Even with the show’s personal motivation, it makes a wider political and feminist point, as she exclaims: “Haven’t we had enough stories in the theatre about mental mothers by men?” Kimmings defies this trend by telling her own story, and even admitting to her own anti-feminist tendencies. We are simultaneously amused and disturbed by a puppy-dog-eyed Bryony singing a 50s romance ballad, as she dolls herself up and makes a fry-up to stop her boyfriend leaving. With the chillingly magnificent projections by Will Duke, we see the relentless self-condemnation of mothers.

Kimmings uses the metanarrative structure and allows herself to be the hero. We see Phoenix, who is still with the ashes but is patiently waiting to rise. This intimate show fills the grand hall space with its epic and fantasy style. The words ‘brave’ and ‘exhilarating’ are arguably overused by critics: but if any show embodies these descriptions; Kimmings’ does.


I’m a Phoenix, Bitch plays at the Battersea Arts Centre until the 20th October. It is one of our 9 Alternative Theatre Openings for October.

Tara Carlin has just graduated from UCL with a degree in English. She has written for the Financial Times, Financial Adviser, and Savage Online. She is an actor and director and has recently set up a theatre company named Shakespeare’s Sister.

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