Thursday, 25 May 2017

REVIEW: My World Has Exploded a Little Bit at Ovalhouse

How should we deal with death? What is the procedure? Is there a script? Are questions asked by Bella Heesom’s autobiographical debut on the subject of mortality, loss and parental bereavement.  As we enter the auditorium, we are greeted warmly by a handshake from Bella and Eva Alexander her comedy sidekick, comes to say hi as we take our seats. The atmosphere is fun, personable and safe. We are then cheerfully informed that “everyone we love is going to die” and the action begins.

A bespectacled and didactic Bella offers us a 17 step “logical and philosophical guide” as to how we should behave in the event that we find ourselves confronted by death. This host-like character is juxtaposed with non-bespectacled Bella, and through savvy layering and sharp storytelling the rational versus the emotional response to death is played out, as Heesom gently takes us by the hand and leads us along this incredibly intimate and personal journey.

Guidelines such as “Step 8: Try to be helpful” are facetiously explored through the retelling of personal anecdotes, e.g. changing her Father’s hospital bed sheets and the use of a portable male urinal. Eva Alexander, who has funny bones, is a show stealer in these scenes with a flair for comic timing and audience interaction, but the comedy serves to draw us deeper in as it lights the way for candid reflection on such difficult subjects. Alexander’s performance is truly hilarious and she also deserves kudos for impressive musicianship.

The comedy is counterbalanced by the large amounts of pathos we find ourselves so willing to be immersed in, as Bella takes us further and further into her inner world.  In “Step 14: Scream” we are exposed to the brutality of loss and wordless depths of those feelings after the event of death. The commitment from Heesom in this scene is heart-wrenching, however the real catharsis comes from the self-aware account of her own journey, where she admits that the
artistic merit of a piece of theatre became more important than the actual event upon which the work was based on.  At this point there is no doubt that we have crossed the threshold of art into real life, and we are painfully aware of the show itself as a coping strategy and a flimsy deterrent from Bella’s loss.

Enshrined in Bella’s handmade paper chains, the piece has a simple and humanist feel, which makes us feel safe yet tackles the weightiest and saddest of human experience. It is a show about the warmth of shared stories and the permission to feel whatever we need to in the face of life’s adversities, that inevitably come to us all.

A touching and poignant show that deserves to be seen.

Review by Anna Williams

Rating: ★★★★

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