Sydney Festival Review: I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is a poignant display of the darkness and desperation of motherhood

Performance artist Bryony Kimmings is known for work centering on the personal, with prior shows exploring her partner’s depression, a show devised with her tween-aged niece and another sleuthing the source of an STD. In I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, however, things get far more raw. If one uses life experience as a platform for their art, how does one explore a personal trauma?

Walking on stage in a bright blonde wig and sequin dress, Kimmings starts the show quite innocuously. Exuding a warm and self-deprecating humour, she reels the audience in with a sort of TED-talk-cum-queer-stand-up discussing her darkest period: a new relationship, a new house and a new baby descends quickly into post-natal psychosis, relationship breakdown and serious infant illness.

Four blanketed set pieces hover behind her; each is revealed as a backdrop for a live video performance, utilizing the camera as a reference to memory; a metaphor for the intensive therapy she endured during and after her experiences. As each piece is revealed, the show takes darker and darker turns, dissecting her own fears as a new mother and her internal fight to provide for her ailing infant son against all odds. Just when things look bad for Kimmings they get much, much worse as she literally musters all the strength she has to continue.

If theatre exists to explore a collective empathy and ask big questions, Kimmings is a master of her audience in this regard. Attacking the show and peeling the layers at perfect pace until everything unravels, she never loses her humour and strength in the face of reliving trauma. As the play climaxes there is a true sense of the reality of her pain, even after re-exploration night after night. We can truly feel her exhale at the end of the show. As a new parent, her exploration an lived experience as a mother hanging on by a thread is moving.

With spectacular production design by Will Duke, Lighting design by Johanne Jensen and sound design by Lewis Gibson, the culmination of which slowly sucks you in an envelopes you to the end, with some clever uses of video and technology. This is a must see.

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is at the Sydney Opera House until tonight, 17th January, before heading to Perth Festival Feb 26 – Mar 1. For tickets and more details head HERE. The author attended the opening performance on the 14th of January.

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