Suzanne Duffy finds much to relate to in Bryony Kimmings’ new digital piece
Bryony Kimmings has spent the last decade creating performance pieces that challenge and reshape what theatre can look like, so it’s not surprising that in the current theatre limbo she’s one of the first artists to try something new. I am falling in love with you and it’s making me do stupid things is one of several new commissions from HOME in Manchester that are responding to the current Covid-19 crisis.
I am falling in love with you and it’s making me do stupid things is a 14-minute series of videos of ‘Bryony’ addressed to a man she exchanged email addresses with a couple of years ago and has a sudden desire to contact. This desperation for connection will no doubt resonate with her audience at a time when many of us are participating in endless and often thankless Zoom quizzes to maintain any kind of link with other people. The piece is also extremely accessible for those of us (me) who feel like our concentration is fraying around the edges.
A quick note on production: there is a danger of underestimating the resources that go into such a simple set-up, as the whole thing is recorded in Kimmings’ house and is written and performed solely by her. But it only takes a glance at the credits to show that it still takes sound designers and video editors to create something so ostensibly homespun. Meanwhile the rest of us struggle to remember to mute our microphones when other people are talking during a meeting.
One of Kimmings’ trademarks is the blurring of the line between autobiography and performance, and this is what made her last show I’m a Phoenix, Bitch one of the must-sees of 2018. Phoenix explored the breakdown of her relationship, her son’s serious illness and her own mental health problems with an intense honesty that was deeply personal, but it was also beautifully performative as she inhabited every character and brought a fantasy landscape to life on stage. I am falling in love with you raises questions of personality versus performance even more persistently. The main character is ‘Bryony’ but is it Bryony? Does it matter? Are the personas we adopt over video call or on a first date the same as who we are in real life?
As the evening wears on Bryony progresses from a coy, enquiring romantic prospect who is “a bit loud, quite kind” through frustration to delusion. The piece is reminiscent of Dorothy Parker’s short story A Telephone Call, which Bustle termed “the most relatable piece about dating ever”, where a young woman waits by the phone for a call from a suitor that will never come … or will it? In both the uncertainty is the very thing that creates the pain. The knowledge that the other person is also in lockdown and not likely to be struggling to make contact through a thicket of obligations makes it worse. Her wry observation “it’s not as if you’re out somewhere and unable to look at your phone” reminds me of everyone I know who was texting their ex after a month of isolation only to receive no response (don’t do it, you know who you are).
Bryony’s plaintive and sympathetic “why don’t you send me a message back?” could have been the dominant tone, but Kimmings pushes things one step further. Her outfits gradually segue from demure to outlandish and the sudden introduction of blue lipstick strikes a sinister note that we realise has been lurking all along. Over the past two months I’m sure I’m not the only one who has looked at other people on a video call and thought “do they even really exist?” It’s a question that creeps in about Bryony’s love interest, just in time for us to go through the looking glass … and into a music video.
In a time when we’re more online and therefore even more saturated with pop culture than usual I am falling in love with you is replete with references. When a shadow of a lipsticked female stalker emerges, it’s impossible not to think of Killing Eve. Kimmings inhabits various seductive personas and several differently coloured wigs in a song which assures her suitor “it’s gonna be a big thing”. There is a long tradition of this in music videos, from Avril Lavigne’s ‘Girlfriend’, to Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ and of course Britney’s blonde / redhead / brunette transition in ‘Toxic’. It’s easy to see it as a comment on how much women have to try, but I think it’s more lighthearted than that. Like the trippy filters that punctuate the goth-space themed music video for the titular song ‘I am falling in love with you and it’s making me do stupid things’ it mixes the mundane, the hilarious and the sinister into a glorious antidote for our current terrifying and dull moment. By midnight Bryony is pissed, lipstick smeared and at a one-person rave. All I could think at this point was “honestly, same.”
The image is courtesy of HOME and shows Bryony Kimmings from the shoulders up looking straight at the camera. She has some of her hair bunched up in her left hand against her head and lipstick smeared across her face. She wears a gold lamé top.