In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
where the straight road had been lost sight of.
How hard it is to say what it was like
in the thick of thickets, in a wood so dense
the very thought of it renews my panic.
The introduction above to Dante Alighieri’s magnum opus is something Briony Kimmings draws on for her latest show I’m A Phoenix, Bitch. Autobiographical in nature, Kimmings gives a very frank account of what it is was like for her a couple of years ago, where after a period of ‘bliss’, her life unravelled – ultimately reaching ‘rock bottom’.
Before she ventures into the dark period of her life, Kimmings gives context to her experiences ‘before’ and ‘after’. Throughout the show, she talks about her young son Frank and her ongoing compilation of recordings for him. This is so that when he comes of age, he’ll have a greater understanding of her and benefit from her experiences. Of course in doing this, it has helped Kimmings to process what she’s felt and been through, enabling her to articulate the rawest of emotions.
Kimmings opens up about her childhood and the effect that her father’s departure had on her own emotional development, her independence, relationships and on her mother. While moving in with her former partner was a watershed moment, being pregnant and the prospect of being a mother had the most profound effect on her sense of identity. Alas, the season of ‘domestic bliss’ was short-lived as Frank’s poor health had an effect on his parents and their ‘dream’ cottage became the stuff of nightmares, isolating Kimmings from female companionship and community.
Audio visual equipment does play a big part in the show, so while it’s used initially to ‘televise’ amusing songs about ‘courtship’ and motherhood, later on ‘the envelope is pushed’ regarding the A Doll’s House metaphor and the aforementoned ‘dark wood’ that Kimmings found herself in. Technically the AV elements are impressive, but the way that they’re used to express Kimmings’ state of mind during her darkest days is inspired – the ‘magic’ of theatre at service to an emotional reality.
Kimmings makes a valid point about the fact that all the famous fictional ‘mad women’ have been written by men and there is a noticeable disparity in the Arts in this regards. Hearing Kimmings’ account of her life, it’s amazing how resilient she is. Knowing all too well the importance of mental health, she’s living proof that inner strength – just like ‘courage’ – isn’t about turning a blind eye to how one truly feels, but having the will to carry on regardless and open to help from others.
© Michael Davis 2018
I’m A Phoenix, Bitch runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 20th October.