Today we’re joined for a pixelated pint by Naomi Westerman, donning the cape and mask of Batman (aka Naomi’s Death Show) at VAULT Festival. Naomi’s new show takes the themes of parental grief into a live storytelling performance, using satire and interactive elements to engage with her audience. The exciting piece plays with the ‘true crime’ genre and the concept of an autobiographical solo show. We sat down with Naomi to talk all things grief, trauma, true crime and Death in the Afternoon.
You can catch Batman (aka Naomi’s Death Show) at VAULT Festival between March 4th and 5th at 16:10 and 20:40. Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.
Hey Naomi! Now your show takes the quite heavy and personal theme of parental grief and turns it into a live storytelling piece. What made you decide to bring this show to VAULT Festival?
“I decided to bring the show to VAULT Festival because I’ve presented quite a few shows at Vault over the years, and find it a very comfortable, supportive environment that tends to draw a pretty theatre-savvy audience who are willing to take chances and get stuck in with things like interactive and participatory elements, which sometimes audiences can be shy about. There’s such a huge number of shows on at VAULT, half your audience is other artists who know what it’s like to take risks and expose vulnerabilities on stage, and therefore tend to be sympathetic. I feel like the “autobiographical one-person show about trauma” is almost a cliché of Vault, or of fringe festivals in general, and I hope my show manages to buck some of that cliché, but Vault is probably the one environment where audiences completely understand that kind of show.”
Tell us a little bit about the process of using your own personal experience as part of exploring the themes of bereavement, and how you chose to bring in elements of satire through the true crime genre.
“I chose to use satire because I didn’t want to write the cliched “autobiographical one-person show about trauma”, I wanted something that would be funny and interesting. I’ve always loved comedy, and by accident I’ve started to develop a bit of a name for writing “funny plays” (I don’t necessarily label them as outright comedy plays). For example my “lesbian rom-com” play Puppy – a queer comedy about dogging, feminist porn and political protest – which started life at VAULT, has its first major run in October-November this year. So I’ve always approached material through a lens of dark comedy and satire, and I think humour is a huge defence mechanism that makes horrendous things much more palatable both to write/perform and to watch.”
“I got drawn into the fringes of true crime “fandom” because I love mysteries, and it fascinates and freaks me out. The true crime fandom is very female-dominated, so clearly women are connecting with something there, but the concept of people unironically referring to themselves as “Murderinos” is a bit mind-bending. In recent years there’s been pushback against the true crime genre’s fixation on perpetrators and the way victims are reduced to bodies; books like Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper are changing the focus and this movement within true crime inspired the play.”
You’ve stated that the audience will get to choose the direction of the show – tell us a little about that element and what potential audience members can expect going in.
“The audience gets to choose whether to kill someone or not.”
“That’s it. That’s the answer.”
Now that we’re gearing up for VAULT Festival 2023, what are you most excited for?
“Chronic Insanity, the company who commissioned and are producing Batman, are also doing All Falls Down, another interactive show. I met someone from SpeakUp Theatre recently who told me about their play created with domestic violence survivors, Residue, which sounds like an unusual and important play. I also really love the sound of Dogmouth Theatre’s Sluts with Consoles, Andrew Doherty’s Gay Witch Sex Cult, and performance artist ELOINA’s High Steaks. And I’ll make a point of checking out the other death-y shows: Simon David’s Dead Dad Show, Dian Cathal’s Promise of Grief. Ugly Bucket’s Good Grief, and Leoni Amandin’s Happy Deathday.”
“As Chronic Insanity is the UK’s first digital theatre company, and as making theatre as accessible as possible is crucial to me as a disabled artist, I’m thrilled that Chronic Insanity will be producing a specially created digital edition of the show, which will be available online very soon after the VAULT run.”
Fitting with the themes of our magazine, if your show was an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage (think cocktails, mocktails, shots, beers, be creative!) what would it be?
“Ernest Hemingway invented a cocktail named ‘Death in the Afternoon’, which is basically just absinthe and Champagne, iced. That feels pretty perfect – both for this show, and life.”