The first thing Bella Heesom wants you to get from her piece is that “you’re going to die”. She invites audience members to turn to the person next to them, lock eyes with them and tell them, loud and clear: “You’re going to die.”
My World Has Exploded A Little Bit: A Logical, Philosophical Guide to Managing Mortality relates Heesom’s experience of her parents’ death to a brain tumour and a long term illness. The piece weaves together two dramaturgical worlds. On the one hand, the performer talks us through her own grieving process, from the moment she became aware of her loved ones' imminent death to her grieving process. On the other hand, the show is also a slightly surreal and comical lecture on the “17 steps to conquering death” punctuated by musical interludes performed by Eva Alexander.
A range of advice is given throughout the lecture elements of the performance. Sometimes it is borrowed from the well-known Kübler-Ross model on the stages of grief; at other points it is much more practical. For example, the performers demonstrate the correct use of a portable urinal and give us a tutorial on how to change soiled bedsheets with someone still lying in the bed.
In My World… the performer also makes her politics very clear as she gets us to sing a ‘Save the NHS’ anthem and seeks to demonstrate that there is no point in turning to a deity when we come face to face with death.
Crucially, Heesom’s piece takes her personal experiences as a starting point to ask vital questions on the choices available to the dying and their relatives. Should treatment be continued if it will extend life and deteriorate its quality? What kind of a ceremony might be held for an atheist? At what point might we discuss their wishes with the dying in regard to their remains?
With recent research commissioned by the Dying Matters coalition clearly demonstrating that death is still a taboo (with two thirds of people stating being uncomfortable discussing it) and a majority using euphemisms such as ‘kicking the bucket’ to talk about death, a piece such as My World… and the wealth of death-related artistic works emerging provide a range of useful and timely conversation starters. (LB)
My World Has Exploded A Little Bit is on at 13.10 at Underbelly Cowgate until August 28th. Hearing Loop available - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/my-world-has-exploded-a-little-bit
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ book featuring the 5 stage model of grief: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/On_Death_and_Dying.html?id=zb-ZNYFUXhsC
Documentation of The Grief Series, a project by artist Ellie Harrison using a seven stage grief model as a starting point: http://griefseries.co.uk/
Atul Gawande’s popular book on mortality: http://atulgawande.com/book/being-mortal/
Further information on My World Exploded A Little Bit: http://myworldexploded.com/
Dying Matters website, a coalition promoting public awareness of death, dying and bereavement: http://www.dyingmatters.org/