saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
My World Has Exploded A Little Bit
Tristan Bates Theatre
11th August 2015
Photography provided by Natural Shocks
The unpleasant truth about black box theatre is often you end up dehydrated due to sweating out a lot of fluid. By the end of My World Has Exploded A Little Bit, I think I'd cried out half my own body weight. A twist on the usual experience then. Written and performed by Bella Heesom, with on stage support from Esh Alladi, this is a lesson in how to cope with death, based on Heesom's own very personal experiences.
Heesom is our lecturer for the evening, with Alladi her eager assistant. She's cheerful and self-assured, whereas he is a ball of nervous energy, waiting for proceedings to kick off. Alladi provides musical accompaniment and assistance with Heesom's presentation, playing the fool. He's excited, eager and a master of surprise hugs - his character utterly adorable. The pair disarm us with their friendliness and Heesom's relaxed demeanour, with a multimedia show unfolding in a way we just didn't expect.
Simple ink sketches in grey projected in front of us depict some of the hardest moments of Heesom's life. The soft shading makes each illustration almost look peaceful, but the images are truly devastating with their true context revealed. The people in these images are preparing for death. Windows show white clouds on a blue sky moving slowly, but definitely moving, demonstrating that no matter what personal hell you're going through, even if it feels like time has stopped, even if you want everything to just end because the joy has drained from your life, regardless of your wishes, life goes on.
This simple contrast of colour and movement brings a real poignancy, as does the use of subtitles to fill in the other half of Heesom's conversations. Her dad answers her questions, as do the doctors and nurses. But the silence as these words are projected in stark black hints perhaps none of these replies are truly sinking in. A gentle soundscape by Keegan Curran and serene music composed by Anna O'Grady surround a distraught Heesom, yet don't bring her any comfort. Completely numb, she's lost to her own thoughts.
The multimedia aspect to this production is absolutely stunning, but the real power comes from Heesom's performance. She constantly switches back and forth between grief-stricken and light-hearted, with an unbelievable breakneck speed. She slips her glasses back on and is suddenly the calm lecturer, rather than the upset and raging child, but as an audience, we're still busy bawling our eyes out, we can't keep up with her shift in emotion. Director Donnacadh O'Briain helps Heesom channel what is patently a very real sense of loss and anger and manage to turn it off and on with the sort of ease that shouldn't be possible. The only plausible explanation is that she's some kind of superhuman, or at the very least, a highly accomplished actress.
Some thoughtful design by Elizabeth Harper brings us into the show. Paper chains make the space feel even smaller and more intimate. With the illustrations on screen so delicate, we need only these simple touches. To go any further would be to overwhelm the production with too much detail. As it is, the balance is just right.
Very early into the show, my chest ached. I began to physically hurt, reacting to Heesom's raw, visceral performance, the impact of her words so forceful. And I'll admit it willingly - I cried. It's a cathartic experience. I can't imagine the impact of this production on anyone who has suffered a more recent bereavement, so I suggest you take some moral support. In the event you don't, Heesom does in fact encourage everyone to hug a stranger at one point, a reminder of how meaningful and comforting that basic human contact is.
Heesom's world may have exploded, but she's managed to carefully put all the pieces back together again and blow them up in front of us, for maximum devastation. By the end of the 75 minute show, you'll find yourself thinking if Heesom can carry on, if she can smile again, there is hope. A truly inspirational and breathtakingly beautiful piece of theatre - a must-see.
My World Has Exploded A Little Bit ran from 11th to 15th August 2015 at the Tristan Bates Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe. It transferred to Underbelly Cowgate on 4th August and runs until 28th August 2016, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.
Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)