Im A Phoenix, Bitch is Bryony Kimmings’ return to solo performance after nearly a decade. It’s her story of motherhood, heartbreak and finding inner strength. And it blazes like a cleansing fire. Daniel Perks reviews:

“How do we fly instead of drown?”

This question jumps out at me in the programme notes for I’m A Phoenix, Bitch. And after the week I’m having (mental health struggles perpetually on my mind), I wish for writer and performer Bryony Kimmings to give me the answer. I subjectively want, maybe even need, the show to be a step-by-step instruction manual on how to cope, on how (paraphrasing her own words here) to turn pain into power.

It’s a self-centred plea, born of desperation and depression. Who am I to expect another person to solve my own problems?

But Kimmings gives me hope. She puts her own experiences on the line for me to draw strength from, in an act of selfless generosity.

Phoenix Bitch Battersea Arts Centre

Bryony Kimmings (image courtesy of Rosie Powel)

I’m A Phoenix, Bitch is a biography of searing honesty, a retelling of Kimmings’ desire for the traditional triad – partner, home, family. It reminds us how life can seemingly bestow every desire one minute and then snatch it from our grasp the next. Co-directed by Kirsty Housley, Kimmings’ story manifests itself as a variety of compartmentalised vignettes, all of which flow together into a single performance piece that rallies against the odds, against the inner voice of anxiety, against the mind as its own worst enemy.

It’s a clever aesthetic depicted on stage. The set is separated into miniature scenes to keep any negative memories individualised so that they can more easily be tackled and processed. Each one is physically broken down as it’s consumed by the audience – we eagerly lap them up as Kimmings puts them away one by one. And every piece of her past has a message, a moment of multimedia comedy with biting societal insight. By using the camera to zoom in and out of focus, Kimmings gives us shelter – we watch at a safe distance so as not to get consumed by the tidal wave of emotion.

Phoenix Bitch Battersea Arts Centre

Bryony Kimmings (image courtesy of Rosie Powel)

It’s all capped off by a sensational piece of projection work by Will Duke, who captures in vivid, three-dimensional detail the horror that can be conjured forth by such a vivid imagination. The result is fantastical and yet realistic – a sinister wood; a deep, dark hole; the feeling of drowning. To think is to believe in the darkest recesses of Kimmings’ mind, as it is in us all.

My struggle this week with depression has led me into ruminating – going over events again and again from my recent past and wishing I handled them differently, berating myself for giving them the attention they don’t deserve. Because by focussing on these ‘mistakes’ I give them purchase, a foothold into my present. I allow them to affect my behaviour now, which further magnifies their impact on my life. My inner voice becomes the external projection of myself. On stage, Kimmings characterises her inner voice as a mansplaining product of misogyny – another cutting allegory that offhandedly eludes to the core of our problems as a society.

Phoenix Bitch Battersea Arts Centre

Bryony Kimmings (image courtesy of Rosie Powel)

And so it’s much easier, and safer, for me to observe this inner duologue rather than participate in it, to watch a captivating performer such as Kimmings provide narrative context and then relate her experiences back to my own. Because Kimmings gives me the luxury of distance. I watch spellbound as she transforms herself into the most powerful of metaphors – her emotion, her mind, her very soul are all the component parts of a crystal-clear message:

I AM STRONG.

As Kimmings fights against her own self-doubt, as well as the dream-turned-nightmare that envelopes the stage around her, I am pinned to my seat by her gritty determination, her force of will, her conviction. I realise that her way of coping is to accept the things we cannot change, but to fight like hell to change those that we have control over.

Kimmings blazes like an inferno, reduces herself to ash and comes out the other side transformed. She truly is a phoenix, bitch.

Phoenix Bitch Battersea Arts Centre

Bryony Kimmings (image courtesy of Rosie Powel)

So, back to my original quandary – how to fly, to soar or even to survive, rather than be suffocated, nay drowned, by the weight of my pain or the burden of my guilt. Kimmings doesn’t give me the answer and it’s not fair to expect her to. But I’m A Phoenix, Bitch reminds me that maybe I too am strong like her.

★★★★☆

I’m A Phoenix, Bitch runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 20 October. For more information or to book tickets, visit the venue website here.