Pros: A refreshingly original production, perfectly balanced and completely absorbing.
Cons: You’re probably going to cry.
You are going to die. A morbid start to any review, I know, but it feels appropriate when writing about a show which so unflinchingly confronts mortality in the way that this one does. Not only that, but during the early stages of My World Has Exploded a Little Bit I was asked to turn to my neighbour and remind them of this inevitable truth (and the same was said back to me in turn).
Bella Heesom’s two-hander, her first as playwright, is an expertly crafted and deeply personal re-telling of the loss of her parents. Delivered in part as a lecture on how to cope with the loss of a loved one, titled “A Logical, Philosophical Guide to Managing Mortality”, the play is at times hilarious and at others almost unbearably sad. Heesom takes us through her 17-step guide with the aid of her impish musical sidekick Eva Alexander, applying each step to her own life story. It’s a clever conceit, and it works: lighthearted and often musical moments are interspersed with tragic ones from Heesom’s own experiences. This helps to keep the play well-balanced, and despite the heavy subject matter the production doesn’t feel emotionally manipulative.
As you might expect from an actor literally drawing from her own life experience, Heesom delivers a profoundly truthful performance, switching effortlessly between her persona as a lecturer and her role as care-giver and daughter. She’s complemented well by Eva Alexander, who treads a fine line between being very funny and seriously annoying. Happily, overall she lands on the former side, and as the play progresses her interjections provide welcome comic relief during the more heart-rending sequences. The two actors work together excellently, under the superb direction of Donnacadh O’Briain, who also brings some lovely stagecraft to the production.
Inevitably, there are times when the show is difficult to watch; there were tears flowing around me before the half-way mark. But then, this is an extremely difficult subject even to think about. Perhaps the real power of this show lies in its ability to confront death in a way which doesn’t push the audience away; for all it’s rawness, the audience is compelled to keep watching. I was never anything but transfixed by the action onstage. At times I was so transfixed that I missed the silent dialogue projected onto the screen upstage. I’m quite confident I’m not alone in this, and if I’d been sitting any further back I’d have struggled to read it in any case.
It feels a bit glib to describe such a tragic show as being enjoyable, but it’s an undeniably strong, informative, and expertly executed piece of theatre. For many of us, death does feel like a tragedy that happens to other people. My World Has Exploded a Little Bit gives us a potentially invaluable toolkit for when we inevitably realise that it isn’t.
Author: Bella Heesom
Director: Donnacadh O’Briain
Box Office: 020 7582 7680
Booking Link: http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/myworldhasexploded
Booking Until: 27 May 2017