It was an extremely proud moment for me on Monday in Assembly Hall when 600 people jumped to their feet to applaud Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn for their work Fake it ‘til you Make it.
In 2013, I travelled to Edinburgh as a delegate for the Edinburgh Showcase. At the final reception I met Mimi Poskitt, whose work You Once Said Yes had been a highlight of the Showcase that year. Mimi was also producing Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model by Bryony Kimmings and her 11-year-old niece Taylor. She urged me to see it and got me a ticket in the otherwise sold-out final performance.
I made it to the venue (just), exhausted from a week of seeing shows. I’d heard some buzz about the work and from memory it was one of the Showcase's additional recommendations of that year. I’m so grateful for Mimi’s insistence that I saw that show. It broke me, inspired me and made me want to be a much better uncle to my nieces back in Australia.
I knew immediately that I wanted to bring the work to Australia as the centrepiece of my programme for the Festival of Live Art in Melbourne. The great benefit of artistically leading a small independent theatre organisation is that I have the ability to act quickly, whereas larger organisations often have their programmes locked in, sometimes years in advance.
On return to Australia I moved to book both Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model for FOLA, and Bryony’s older work Sex Idiot for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, both in March the following year.
The shows were a huge success and Australian audiences fell in love with Bryony Kimmings. These works are still talked about and I’ve already seen her influence on new works that have been made in Australia since 2014.
The presentation of Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model and Sex Idiot was just the start of my relationship with Bryony.
Whilst she was in Melbourne we started to plan a return tour to Australia and literally as soon as she arrived back home she let me know she wanted to make a show with her non-actor partner Tim about his depression and, more broadly, about men and depression. Together with Southbank Centre London we commissioned this work and I began planning a ten-week tour of a show that that hadn’t yet been developed for the following year. I watched from afar as Bryony and Tim presented their work-in-progress showing at Forest Fringe a year ago. The overwhelmingly positive tweets started appearing and they sent me the filmed footage to look at. I remember bawling my eyes out – I knew we were on the path to making a very special work.
They arrived in Australia in January 2015 still developing the work, writing, re-writing, shifting scenes, editing, getting ready to present the work to its first paying audiences in a metropolitan centre just outside Perth. This was Tim’s first ever show. We weren’t touring with a technical manager so it was Bryony, Tim and I working it out and I remember being amazed at how clear and calm Bryony was transferring the show from space to space. She’s an artist who understands the complete breadth of performance making.
I was also impressed by how quickly Tim was picking up the lingo and was surprised to hear him say at one point, "I think we need to look at the dramaturgy of this section". Hang on a minute, is this really his first time ever on stage? He is just an incredibly smart and open man who adapted to the performance-making world. The first show was gorgeously shambolic: the tent (the major set piece) got stuck and wouldn’t do what it was supposed to do. I think I actually stood up in the audience and asked a technician to go down and help them. Despite the technical mishaps and the adorable way in which Tim dealt with them, the show connected directly to people’s hearts and it was overwhelmingly clear that so many people have a connection to depression in their lives.
This was show number one of a 70 performance tour for Bryony (she was also performing Sex Idiot) that took in Mandurah, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. The critics loved it and Fake it ‘til you Make it won ‘Best Theatre Awards’ in both Perth and Adelaide. For me, however, what felt more important than the awards was the real impact this show was having on the people who saw it. Sometimes the phrase "life-changing" can be used too freely in theatre, but this was, for many, a life-changing show. It enabled people to reflect on their own experience with depression. It enabled men to talk about their feelings. It enabled couples to connect with other people who shared similar experiences. It provided space for reflection. And it affected people from all walks of life, as depression does.
As Georgie Harman, CEO of Beyond Blue says: "Depression is the most democratic of illnesses. It doesn’t matter who you are; or what your background or life experience is, you can be affected by it". We facilitated robust and insightful panel discussions throughout the tour and more and more people opened up about their experiences with depression and mental illness. The show returned four months later to Brisbane Powerhouse where it, again, sold out its entire run. Well over 7,000 people in Australia have now seen Fake it ‘til you Make it and Sex Idiot.
Until yesterday I hadn’t seen the show since April. We all knew when it left Australia that there was still some work to be done on it – nothing major but important nonetheless. Yesterday that work was revealed to me and I was so excited by the new choices: the finessing of structure, the transitions between scenes and the inclusion of their unborn son in the story. Bryony and Tim also made a baby in Australia! And when 600 people jumped to their feet whooping and sobbing I thanked destiny that I went to the closing night party of the Edinburgh Showcase in 2013.