“Welcome to my therapy,” Bryony Kimmings states at the beginning of her new 80- minute work, I’m a Phoenix, Bitch. Inhabiting the vastness of the recently re-opened Great Hall of the Battersea Arts Centre, the piece holds a synchronicity to its environment as Kimmings charts the past two years of her life, once burning at the flames of another fire.
Through live projections of the snapshot environments littered across the stage, Kimmings creates windows to her psyche. Performing her trauma through her unflinchingly self-satirising songs, she provides the audience with a profound insight to her personal understanding of her pain.
Fascinatingly, this is constantly in opposition to the pervading male perception of female trauma, which she fleshes out through instantly recognisable pop-culture references, and the concurrent narration by her male, internal monologue voice. Edifying the colossal task of disentanglement from patriarchal voices that look to dictate reasoning for her own behaviours, now embedded in her own mind, and even going so far as to assume her guise.
Driven by Kimmings’s overflowing charisma and personality, she moves almost trance-like through her own memories, and the result is riveting. Her astute self-awareness ensures that no matter how dramatised or grand, her re-lived experiences become on stage, they never become insincere.
Each introduced element is multi-faceted, whether in the lullaby-like resonances of Tom Parkinson’s compositions or the exploration of physical duress to simultaneously suppress and engage mental strain.
Poetically, light is the steering tool that moves her through the work. Whether the lights above, to the side, from within her snapshot environments, or of the towering projection at the back. Johanne Jensen’s light design is detailed and fluid, in a constant stage of fluctuation, and incredibly apt for the work it supports.
Communication is at the heart of the production. Of self, to self, and from self. Looking to cement an oral tradition of passing down lived experiences of mental health (in recordings from her mother or to her own child), Kimming offers an alternative to the way in which this trauma has historically sat within a family and the larger society beyond it.
Enlisting psychological techniques to help frame the work, the far-reaching complexities of I’m a Phoenix, Bitch are astounding, and far too many to completely delve in to. Though speaking on mental health in a wider scope throughout, Kimmings never relinquishes the specificity of her pain, and the importance of a female-voice reasserting control over her own narrative.
I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is playing Battersea Arts Centre until 20 October. For more information and tickets, click here.