Naomi Westerman brings a high-concept, multifaceted journey through grief to VAULT festival. Incorporating elements of game shows, choose-your-own-adventure and audience suggestions, Batman (AKA Naomi’s Death Show) spans silliness to poignance.
Upon arriving at the venue, attendees are met with a small goodie bag on their seats: this includes a chocolate biscuit, pencil, bingo card, and squeaky toy. Westerman goes on to explain how some of these items will be incorporated into the performance. The squeaky toy serves as a ‘bat signal’: she describes that in most media we do not get to choose the story that is told to us, therefore she is offering us the opportunity to interrupt her story and make room for engagement. We play “death bingo”, exploring the ways in which the reaper may come for us, making for a fun entry into the darkness.
Batman is autobiographical, detailing Westerman’s breadth and depth of misfortune and finding her feet in writing despite it all. This is a deeply moving show, impactful by the nature of its material, however made thought-provoking and uplifting thanks to Westerman’s careful crafting. She explores different cultural approaches to death: how she hopes anthropologists will find a horde of buried pet rats in her father’s grave, and how grieving can be an opportunity for happiness. A particularly special moment is Westerman’s recreation of sitting Shiva, in which audience members are invited to light a candle, eat some food, and remember those dear to us whom we have lost. This is a show that codifies Westerman’s own familiarity with grief, but invites the rest of us into the experience, elevating immersive theatre into a therapeutic experience.
Westerman does a lovely job of balancing heavy content material with lighter moments: the silliness of squeaky toys, chocolate biscuits, and rat pyjamas create a welcoming environment that helps break the taboo of discussing death. Special credit should go to Westerman’s Emotional Support Shark, a role I would like to see feature more often on London’s stages. The production ends with discussion of funeral songs the deceased would have loved, and the potential of reincarnation. The piece delivers an overall source of catharsis both for the playwright and the audience, and is beautifully suited to the intimacy of the Vaults’ Studio space.
Batman (AKA Naomi’s Death Show) tackles tricky subjects with care and thoughtfulness, incorporating its audience into a greater process of dealing with grief. Westerman’s personal story is, for lack of a less clichéd term, inspiring, and it is a gift to bring this life’s experience to a wider audience. It must also be said that more shows should offer chocolate biscuits (with vegan options!) and cuddly sharks.
Written by: Naomi Westerman
Directed by: Katharina Reinthaller
Produced by: Chronic Insanity
Batman (AKA Naomi’s Death Show) played as part of VAULT Festival 2023, and has completed its current run.