I’M A PHOENIX, BITCH

Written and Performed by Bryony Kimmings

Directed by Kirsty Housley and Bryony Kimmings

HOME

I was blown away by I’m a Phoenix, Bitch when I saw it at Edinburgh Fringe in August. Like many of the audience I literally staggered out of that performance like someone had literally tilted my world and walked me through the dark side of a nightmare reality. Thankfully Bryony Kimmings is acutely mindful of her safety and that of her audience. This is a safe space and “new Bryony” has plenty of tools for any possible apocalyptic scenario. It’s time to find the little anchors and rafts that exist amongst all this chaos that will help you…in the future.

This is an autobiographical performance by an artist who has never shied away from painful, personal subject matter. Shows like Sex Idiot, 7 Day Drunk and Fake It ‘Til You Make It have firmly established Kimmings as an important artist. This show explores her experiences in 2015 when she lost her partner, her home, her sanity and almost lost her baby son. The show is structured around her subsequent experience of a Psychotherapy technique called “rewinding” used to help clients confront and deal with past traumas. Using micro sets on stage that recreate various scenarios, Kimmings films herself and these projections cleverly recreate how the mind can be trapped in a memory or experience, and how observing it again can help gain emotional perspective to cope with trauma.

As a self styled “Psychotherapy movie star” Kimmings embraces elements of camp horror schtick, brooding black and white Hitchcock and vivid Lynchian dystopias as she plays out a range of rewinds. We meet the breakfast nymph complete with a full English and the requisite vicious metal man trap. We see a girlish Bryony playing house as she plays out the fairytale complete with miniature Oxfordshire cottage with wisteria on the outside and lashings of Farrow and Bell on the inside. There is a high achieving Mum-to-be in billowing kaftan bingeing on NCT classes and natural childbirth. As each scene is unveiled Kimmings is transformed with wigs and makeup while in between there is a sharp contrast as the new Bryony breaks the fourth wall red haired and clad in black gym clothes. This Bryony makes recordings for her son Frank in the hope he will understand their journey whilst also battling a harsh leaking, creeping inner monologue that frequently attempts to derail her hard fought for sanity and confidence as a mother.

Visually this production is both bleak and yet utterly gorgeous. This is dark subject matter but Kimmings has a lightness of touch and a real natural warmth that is always engaging. The projections give this show a magical realism especially when she steps into the projection itself. The utter poignancy of a grief crazed mother frantically burying the unbearable reminders of the future she had imagined for her child seem not crazy or remotely like giving up on her son. Like a Phoenix this is a mother preparing to be a mother to a “new” baby Frank.

This is a harrowing journey into post-partum psychosis, PSTD, and a parent’s nightmare experience of seeing their baby become critically ill with a cruel and damaging health condition. This is no blissed out paradise model and there is no happy ending to this story but there is a statement of hope to sustain us all in the real world. This is an important performance to witness as what audience members hopefully take away is a permission to see psychotherapy or counselling as an option to support them if ever confronted with their own personal apocalypse. Bryony can now see her horrific experiences in 2015 as just bad luck. Her fears for her baby did not make anything bad happen. Many parents fear for their children as a natural built in instinct for their survival, in post-partum psychosis those fears are hideously magnified. We can all prepare for the worst. For Bryony her fears were realised but thankfully she has risen like a Phoenix and although battle scared, both her and her loved ones have survived.

HOME 26th -30th November 2019

Images by The Other Richard

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True

Image by Richard Davenport, The Other Richard

Written and devised using verbatim material by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett

Directed by Billy Barrett

HOME

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True uses verbatim theatre to launch a blistering assault on the legal system’s attitude to women in rape and sexual assault cases, and how patriarchal perspectives inform how our truth is perceived. Ripping through the centuries comes the voice of Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi from the surviving pages of a 400 year old rape case in Rome. A seven month long court case in 1612 that pitched this remarkable 17 year old against Agostino Tassi, an older, established artist who had given her painting lessons and viciously raped her.

Using verbatim text is something Breach have honed as a theatrical tool throughout all five of their productions. They have a sensitivity to the material and a wonderfully creative and playful way of transposing it unto the stage in a way that works visually. Using clever design from Luke W Robson with lighting by Lucy Adams they create a rich Baroque environment that summons up painting studios but with a sinister hint of courtroom/prison torture chamber.

The pace is excellent here, this may be 400 year old court documents but Billy Barrett ensures they feel fresh, vivid and shockingly relevant to today. When the courtroom drama cuts to descriptions of Artemisia’s paintings of classical historical images, the energy shifts again. What ensues is cheeky and merciless as Ellice Stevens, Sophie Steer and Kathryn Bond do a glorious take on a Benny Hill style sketch and slice through traditional male stereotypical assumptions about female desire.

All three female performers take on the central roles and those of additional characters with great skill, integrity and energy. These are not easy roles to perform as they are embedded in the truth of real words spoken by a wounded young woman astounded by what the courts require of her to accept her truth. Ellice Stevens gives a brilliant performance as Artemisia allowing her a vulnerability that is laced with indignation, innate self confidence and an insistence that her voice be heard. She brings joy and power to this harrowing story of a young woman who emerges as a success and not as a victim.

Kathryn Bond has the tricky role of Tuzia who fails to protect or support her young charge yet is also the victim of bullying by the wily Tassi. She does a great job of evoking a gossipy, foolish woman who is easily swayed but not heartless either.

Sophie Steer takes on the most difficult role as the vicious rapist whose scheming ways and previous history of assaults are clearly documented in the court papers. She is mesmerising as she exudes a sense of Tassi’s narcissistic selfishness and brutal intent to trample on anyone in his path. As a actress she has an uncanny and brilliant capacity to step into a character’s skin like a chameleon. The shift from scheming rapist Tassi to avenging angel Judith is wonderful to observe as she literally sheds his skin and sex and reinvents herself as another character.

What we see on stage is outrageous, ghastly and painful but ultimately triumphant as Artemisia summons her heroine Judith to behead her offender Holofernes. Breach evoke a #MeToo through the ages as Patti Smith’s defiant anthem Gloria ricochets through the theatre and hopefully beyond. A celebration of Artemisia, her later achievements as an artist, and her words, ” as long as I live I will have control over my being…I’ll show you what a woman can do”.

HOME 8th Oct – 12th Oct 2019

Breach

SWIM

HOME

Liz Richardson in association with HOME and ECHO

Creators/Performers Liz Richardson, Josie Dale-Jones, Sam Ward, Carmel Smickersgill

I grew up by water, a green, gurgling river full of trout and salmon and Lough Erne, the Irish Lake District – 2 dark and beautifully treacherous loughs filled with islands. I love the comfort of water, especially a warm enveloping bath. For Liz Richardson and her friend Lisa comfort and solace comes in the icy shock of wild swimming. This new show takes a moving and tender look at the grieving process as Richardson introduces fellow theatre makers Josie Dale Jones and Sam Ward to wild swimming while composer Carmel Smickersgill observes them and creates an extraordinarily beautiful homage to the power of the water and the potency of grief.

SWIM combines performance with live music, video footage and a conversational style that creates a really fresh feel to this piece. There is a real sense that these performers are meeting in a collaborative process that is new to all of them and that their personal curiosity around the subject matter is geniune. This production is full of earthy humour and guileless playfulness yet throughout their quest to explore what is involved in wild swimming, there is a haunting constant in the grieving process and that this show is not about Liz’s friend Lisa but that it for her.

The stamina, huge heart and lust for life that Liz Richardson embodied in Gutted is on show once again. She takes her fellow performers and the audience on a quest to feel truly alive and to never feel apologetic for the gift of life. The filmic element of the show is both down to earth mundane and sublimely beautiful as they chatter and shiver in an estate car or float on vast lakes. The personalities and differing perspectives of the performers work well and the whole thing is drawn together by the soaring vocals of Carmel Smickersgill who creates an ethereal soundscape akin to Julee Cruise or Duritti Column.

SWIM speaks of the spiking feeling or electrifying shock to the body as it is encompassed by the icy water. It speaks of the pain as friends see each other grieve, on your face a type of joy til I’ve seen You’ve remembered again…just because you’ve enjoyed yourself doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten. In the water our bodies are reshaped just as our souls are by grief. In profound grief we often seem to lose ourselves, or the selves that we once were. In making this show for her friend Lisa, Liz is seeking a friend who is out there lost in the dark water. Regrouping, reforming repairing, still an unknown to herself and to Liz…may you both continue to journey well within the water and beyond it.

The day after I saw this show I too lost someone very dear to me. I’m still floundering in and out of the water but I won’t drown. Shows like SWIM are so important, we never know when we might need to revisit them and find solace.

Beside-Pleasance Courtyard 31st July-26th August 2019

The Fishermen

HOME

Written by Chigozie Obioma

Adapted by Gbolahan Obisesan

Directed by Jack McNamara

This new play is deftly adapted for the stage by Gbolahan Obisesan. It is an impressive feat to so effectively condense a 300 page epic book filled with rich, colourful characters into a two-hander play. Under the skilful and passionate direction of Jack McNamara it becomes a triumph and absolute joy to behold. The innocence of boyhood and filial loyalty is portrayed alongside the bloody horrors of a descent into madness, murder and mayhem that eventually culminates in a sense of fortitude and redemption. This is story telling at its very best, drawing you in and staying with you long after you leave the theatre.

The two actors give a tightly choreographed performance that keenly evokes the familiarity of brotherly bonds. The two youngest brothers of the Agwu family are reconnecting for the first time in eight years and Michael Ajao as Ben and Valentine Olukoga bring their acting “A” game, all hopeful yearning and bruised wariness. What follows is their recalling of their childhood in a stable family unit with ambitious parents, big brothers, football, fishing and village life in Nineties Nigeria. Fracturing this idyll like the spikes of the metal poles cutting through the stage, is the horror of a prophecy from a local madman which plunged their world into a Shakespearean tragedy.

Ajao and Olukoga channel the rest of their parents and brothers, the madman Abula, the meddling nosy neighbour and even the chickens and fish. All are brought to life on stage with a fluidity and energy that seems inexhaustible. Both actors inhabit each role with ease. Olukoga has all the stubbornness and mischief of a 10 year old, the bluster and patriarchal confidence of a man who sired four sons destined for success, yet can suddenly vividly evoke a flustered chicken in a coop. Ajao can physically transform from sweet young boy to an embittered, traumatised youth, then undergoing metamorphosis into his indignant, bossy mother and later descending into her grief stricken madness. He can delight when twitching and jerking as a fish on the riverbank and truly terrify and chill as he delivers the doom laden prophecy of Abula.

The set design by Amelia Jane Hankin works wonderfully. The simple dais cut through by the actual river is symbolic of past and present, and of the living and the dead. Metal poles are props but also stakes running through this river of blood and through the hearts of this family and symbolic of the lost promise of Nigeria itself. The combination of lighting by Amy Mae and sound by Adam McCready ramp up the drama in the narrative creating a sense palpable tension as they pulsate in time to the actor’s movements on stage. They create a stop/start dance of violence with startling intensity but also evoke the peaceful idyll of the moonlit night surrounded by the chirp of crickets.

The Fishermen is a truly intimate theatre experience that explores both the strength of familial relationships and the vulnerability that runs through every family. The tragedy of Agwu family is epic and the stuff of nightmares, yet scratch the surface of any family and the ghosts that appear may be also be bruised and bloody. Theirs is a story of Shakespearean proportions with children at the core of violence; it is a sobering thought that just this month 180 traumatized child soldiers from the Boka Haram were returned to the care of Nigeria and The United Nations.

HOME 19th – 28th July

Edinburgh Festival in August

New Perspectives

THE DUKE

HOME

Written and Performed by Shôn Dale-Jones

Storytelling predates writing as a human tool for relating to each other. It teaches listening, respect and empathy while assisting us in how we learn by connecting information to our emotions. We are living in a ever more noisy world of deadly conflicts, information overload from social media trivia and obsessive consumerism threatening our environment. It is easy to feel discombobulated and helpless to make any worthwhile changes in our world. In using this pared back medium Shôn Dale-Jones Artistic Director of Hoipolloi is weaving stories blending fantasy and reality to provoke and effect social change.

THE DUKE is his second show to win a Fringe First at Edinburgh and has also been Play of the Week on BBC Radio 4. This gentle tale weaves a family story of a porcelain ornament and what it represents in the grieving process, with the madness of American marketing crushing artistic merit, and the reality of the refugee crisis robbing vulnerable children of the safety of home and family.

It could be a worthy and rather preachy tale of “haves” and “have nots” or a madcap story of bonkers Welsh “characters”. Instead Dale-Jones engages with the audience with charm and warmth from the moment he enters the space until he shakes hands with everyone as they leave. The picture he paints balances playful with poignant and although it is never clear how much is fact based what always shines through is the performer’s committment and investment in relationships.

The relationship between him and his parents is charming and deeply touching. For any of us impacted by grief there is a real truth in valuing a remaining parent and having an acute awareness that time is precious in all significant relationships. The emotional connection with refugee children comes from an empathic place where perhaps we can only truly value family when we know what is to experience loss.

His relationship with his work also tells the story of someone who passionately cares about creating work that has truth and merit. The story also highlights how tempting it can be to sell out for hard cash and larger audiences but how hard it is to maintain artistic control of your work without having it dilluted to appeal to a wider audience or to appease the investors.

THE DUKE is tender, whimsical and thought provoking. There are no hi-tech distractions just a man sitting at a desk talking and playing snatches of some great Northern Soul. It’s genius lies in it’s apparent simplicity. In vividly evoking small moments of genuine connection between Dale-Jones and his family, it is impossible not to connect and reflect on the plight of refugee families. In scaling down to the micro it feels more possible to imagine reaĺly effecting change that helps than when overwhelmed by the the global scale of this issue. It is heartening to know how much money THE DUKE has already raised for Save The Children.

HOME 6-7 June

The Marriage of Kim K

Music by Stephen Hyde

Libretto by Leoe Hyde

53Two

real live actual couple sit on a sofa drinking wine and bickering over what to watch on telly. A string quartet and a barefoot keyboard player play Mozart. It could be Gogglebox The Opera. Indeed it might have been if Leoe &  Hyde had thought of it.

Instead these intrepid boys weave centuries old opera with popular celebrity culture. The Marriage of Figaro meets A marriage of Kim Kardashian. This should be a car crash affair of which the least said the better. Thankfully the end result is fresh, fun and really rather clever.

The music moves well between genres and sounds great. Echo Chamber are a talented bunch who I heard earlier this year at a MIF17 Festival in my Home. The overall impact is polished and impressive. The piece would really shine in a larger venue to allow for better acoustics for such a big sound

The staging is very effective with the central sofa and telly creating the focus of the piece. If we use populist reality docusoaps as a means of escape are we just relaxing or are we disengaging from our lives? 

Real life couple Amelia and Stephen may or may not squabble over the remote control in private but like most couples they will sometimes stop listening with their hearts because their heads are full of stressful thoughts.

When all 3 couples occupy the stage the performance is at times sublime and surreal. It can also frustrate as clever lines get lost as couples are singing over each other. This works as a device to demonstrate the cacophony of our modern media obsessed world but at times detracts from some fine performances. 

Visually it’s fab and frothy. The central couple are authentic and well developed with Amelia Gabriel giving a standout performance. Kim and Kris are suitably trashy and raunchy and played with OTT relish- great fun. The Count and Countess look and sound stunning, and the costumes are fabulous. The attention to detail is really impressive and adds real depth to how the show looks on stage.

By combining Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries 72 day lovefest/marital car crash with the Count and Countess in The Marriage of Figaro we see nothing really changes. Two hundred plus years on we still fall in love, we still disappoint and are disappointed. We will always have lavish peacocks and steadfast wrens. The music may vary but at its heart the beat remains the same.

Showing July 3,4,10,11,15,16,17 July

Moving to Edinburgh Fringe