Vaults, London – until 12 February 2017
Guest reviewer: Michael Davis
My World Has Exploded a Little Bit is not your average show at the Vaults (or anywhere else for that matter). Developed in collaboration with director/dramaturg Donnacadh O’Briain, My World Has Exploded a Little Bit is Bella Heesom’s response to her parents’ deaths occurring within a few years of each other. That’s devastating at the best of times. For it to happen during your 20s will have a profound effect on one’s relationships and worldview.
Half of the show is a candid recreation of the conversations Heesom had with her father (whose diagnosed brain tumour came like a bolt out of the blue) and with her mother (who had multiple sclerosis ever since Heesom was a child). The other half of the show takes the form of an absurdist performance/lecture on how to cope in such times, accompanied by pianist/performer Eva Alexander, who provides welcome moments of levity. Seventeen points are raised in Heesom’s coping strategy and while I have no doubt that a large part of this section is inspired by experience, not everything is meant to be taken at face value. It’s one thing to talk about such things in a collected, unemotional way. It’s another to live through it.
‘Enjoyed’ is probably the wrong word to use, but I was deeply moved by the sections that dealt with the real thoughts and emotions Heesom faced during her parents’ last days. Of course every death is different – a point raised by Heesom herself. Some deaths hit hard straightaway, like a blow to the the solar plexus. Others induce numbness and the tears that you feel should be present are noticeably absent. That’s ok. There are a million different reactions and none of them are wrong.
If the autobiographical part of the show pertains to the emotional part of the brain, the lecture is most certainly about the rational part. Wearing a pair of faux-spectacles when in intellectual mode, Heesom strides through the seventeen points with speed and certitude. Things such as finding a motto – perhaps a song lyric – are encouraged to keep you focused on what matters in life. Saying “I love you” may end up being repetitive and meaningless, so find alternative ways of expressing this. The main suggestion given is to use anagrams for the ‘L’ word, but something else mentioned – the therapeutic value of hugs is a more obvious alternative, which the audience was encouraged to do there and then.
Some shows at this juncture would shy away from any mention of God or religion. Not this one. Heesom’s intellectual persona rejects the value of considering the existence of a higher power. Why would any God allow suffering? Heesom also offers an alternative religious argument, that suffering is meant to be part and parcel of existence to give life meaning. In any case, regardless of one’s point of view, the universe is an indifferent place. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Life simply isn’t fair.
If I had to find fault with anything with the show, it’s that a lot of the advice presupposes one has advanced warning of a loved one’s death, when quite often there isn’t that foreknowledge. Qualms aside, my instincts about not taking the lecture at face value proved right. Yes, one may be able to ask doctors pertinent questions on subsequent occasions, but nothing can prepare the rational mind for loss, especially when it is not fair or expected.