CALLUM ROSS reviews My World Has Exploded A Little Bit at Ovalhouse.
My World Has Exploded A Little Bit is described as ‘an autobiographical piece exploring how we deal with grief’. Though ‘autobiographical’ is more the emphasis than the 1st person plural ‘we’, Bella Heesom’s play is a promising debut and despite any discomforts the audience may have, the production does produce laughs and most importantly forces us to think about a largely taboo topic: death.
Heesom, along with her ‘assistant’ (Eva Alexander) carries us through the story of her own parents’ deaths using three narratives: a lecturer teaches us the ‘seventeen steps to conquering death’; in flashback Alxander narrates Heesom’s own story; most moving is the occasional monologue spoken directly by Heesom as herself.
On top of this complex structure is a vast array of other technical devices: a serene video is projected constantly in the background, Alexander punctuates the play with piano accompaniment, and the audience partakes in the performance like members of a therapy group. The production certainly questions the boundaries of theatre if nothing else. Of all these elements, the piano is certainly the most entertaining—used both to create comedy and as a vehicle of atmosphere, the play would certainly fall short without it. The piano score seems largely prepared but also includes sections of improvisation, adding to the humanity of the production.
Though the play presents itself as a general discussion of death, there is a notable excess of personal voice throughout. Yes, Heesom claims to teach a supposedly universal programme for dealing with grief, but it often seems that the play is more a personal attempt to confront her own, unique, experience of the death of loved . That isn’t to say that she is disguising some selfish gain, but rather that she seems to miss the inherent individuality of the experience of death which she attempts to convey as common.
In a moment of metatheatre, this question is almost confronted head-on when Heesom, working herself into a passion, exclaims: ‘call yourself an actor? You’re barely a person!’ The problem seems to be that she, or indeed anyone, cannot be both an ‘actor’ and a ‘person’: the former would be the successful teacher informing us as to how we can ‘conquer death’; the latter would be the Bella Heesom telling us as friends of her parents’ deaths. On the other hand, she may also be suggesting that to be a successful ‘actor’ one must be first prove themselves a ‘person’. Is she trying to balance both roles or transcend personhood to reach the status of actor?
Besides the serious questions the play asks, the best moments are undeniably the comic. The concept of comedy as a coping mechanism is obviously not novel, but the production moves towards incorporating comedy and joy into the whole subject of death rather than using it as an aversion of the topic, as it is often is.
Despite all of this, still the main question My World leaves one with regards the nature of theatre itself. Heesom greeted every audience member on the way into the theatre and offered a hug to everybody as they left, some of whom were in tears. My World will make you laugh, certainly, and possibly cry, but it may also make you question the boundary between reality and performance that theatre simultaneously proposes and blurs, and the issues of transforming such personal experiences as death into a performance.
Bella Heesom’s My World Has Exploded A Little Bit is on tour now until June 30th. Find tickets and more information here.
Featured image courtesy of Edward Moore.