The number of shows in which performers lay bare their personal mental health struggles has steadily increased in recent years. Bryony Kimmings’ Fake It ‘Til You Make It, about living with a depressed boyfriend, was an early and notable example, and its influence can be felt all over this year’s Fringe.
Bryony Kimmings: I’m a Phoenix, Bitch Pleasance Courtyard * * * * *
Her extraordinary new show raises the bar considerably; it’s the best thing she’s ever done.
It begins with a B-movie spoofing dance sequence, a previously-on-Bryony recap of all her shows to date, and a funny song about entrapping the boyfriend with a cooked breakfast. And then, once we’re sitting comfortably, she plunges headfirst into the darkness and doesn’t emerge for another hour, as she shares a raw, gripping tale of a fragmenting relationship, a critically ill child, and her own experience of depression and PTSD.
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If Kimmings’ earlier work had an endearingly DIY aesthetic, this one ups the ante both narratively and theatrically. There is a sequence combining movement and animation that’s as visually arresting as anything in Roots, 1927’s show this year, and considerably more powerful because of the real-life trauma it portrays.
And then, just as you’re reeling from that, Kimmings outdoes herself with a startling reveal that would be more at home at the EIF than the Fringe.
Kimmings has always been a skilful, self-aware writer and performer, brimming with playful ideas. I’m a Phoenix, Bitch showcases a new depth and maturity. She describes it as “Arts Council-funded therapy”, a self-deprecating joke that is way too modest; as a performer she puts herself through a wringer in this intense 90-minute show, but she handles her own story – and her portrayal of others, especially Tim, her ex and the father of her child – with the utmost care. If creating this kind of work is a high-wire act, Kimmings is the greatest show-woman in town; anyone planning to make theatre about their own mental health should see I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, and watch and learn.
For her sake, though, I hope she never has to make a show like this one again.
Until 25 August