I get the sense, trying to get hold of Bryony Kimmings, that she’s a busy woman. Which is what you might expect for someone who bills herself, on her website, as ‘director, activist, musician, performance artist, comedian, writer, theatre maker, feminist, playwright, loudmouth’.
I finally nail her down when she’s sitting still in the same place for an hour – on the 14.48 to Victoria. She’s going up to London from hometown Brighton for a performance of I’m a Phoenix, Bitch at the Battersea Arts Centre, where it’s enjoying a second run before a five-show Brighton Fringe stint at the Attenborough Centre, at the University of Sussex, in May.
“It’s the story of one woman surviving the most traumatic year of her life, in which she gets sick and she loses her mind to a psychosis,” she tells me. That woman is Bryony herself: in 2015 she suffered from a crushing case of post-natal depression, during which she lost her partner and, very nearly, her child.
Her career, too, was jeopardised. Bryony had made a real name for herself with well received shows such as Seven Day Drunk, in which she examined the effect of alcohol on creativity by boozing from 10am to 7pm then performing, and Credible Likeable Popstar, in which she acted out her nine-year-old niece’s fantasy celebrity, with the resulting pop songs getting Radio 1 airtime. But then “I got it so badly that I stopped going on stage. I was just terrified and really underconfident, it’s taken a lot to change that narrative in my head.”
The very act of creating I’m a Phoenix, Bitch helped her come through the crisis. “[I’ve used] theatre as a sort of cathartic therapy for both myself and the audience to look at who we become after something traumatic happens, and how you repair yourself after that,” she says. The first run was a tremendous five-star success: Time Out described it as a ‘metaphysical glitter cannon of trauma being fired straight at your chest’.
In the show she displays much of the versatility she’s famous for: I’m a Phoenix is part musical, part pop video, part horror film, with Bryony playing various versions of herself, while battling with her interior monologue, which takes the voice of “a straight, white, misogynistic, middle-class, male TV drama exec.”
She has described herself in the past as a ‘washing your dirty laundry in public sort of girl’ and she calls this “a baring of the soul”. This soul-baring, it seems, comes naturally: “The ability to deconstruct the self and be able to talk about things that people really don’t want to talk about, that’s just very inherent in my family.”
But is there the danger, I wonder, as the train pulls into the station, of Bryony straying into self-obsession territory? She thinks of herself more as an ‘autobiographical activist’, it seems. “If I sacrifice my own secretiveness, it might help other people… I’m sent to be the jester, so the world can change.”
ACCA, 3rd-7th May