‘Batman (aka Naomi’s Death Show)’ at VAULT Festival review – Parental bereavement explored in collaborative and compelling case for community grieving


It’s talking therapy meets choose-your-own-adventure in this personal one-woman show about childhood trauma and parental death. Theatre has always been about the collective experience, and in a unique and intimate way, writer and performer Naomi Westerman expands upon that long-established idea to create a play which encourages communal grieving, something our society doesn’t do as much as it could – or should.

It’s impossible to find the show too deep, heavy or uncomfortable, as we’re quickly thrust into a game of “death bingo” after learning about the death of a woman (who is later revealed to be Naomi’s mother) who was killed while trying to evict an abusive ex-boyfriend from her home. On top of that, an audience goodie bag complete with a chocolate bar also comes with a Batman squeaker or ‘bat signal’, which any audience member can press if they want a break from the main narrative to spin from a wheel of equally morbid, but shorter anecdotes – even the cute animal story contains death!

Furthermore, colour cards tell Naomi which out of two plot lines we prefer at particular moments in her life story, right up to the point where she revisits her childhood home and confronts the man she believes killed her mother (her death wasn’t considered suspicious due to the mother having heart problems). It’s particularly curious how we as an audience respond to second-hand grief, choosing whether to pursue moving, emotional plot lines like a love story, or continue the morbid path by hearing her experience at the morgue, for example. Meanwhile, audience members being invited to come up and light a candle in memory of a loved one in “communitas” is a beautifully touching moment in the show.

And I know I said about the bat signal, but so authentic is Naomi’s delivery of her life story – from homelessness to a career in theatre with all the erms and ahs left in – that we don’t want to interrupt such a raw monologue. In fact, in this performance, so engrossed are we in the story that Westerman herself has to sound the ‘bat signal’ to tick off the remaining sub-plots. Even in the more improvised audience interactions, the actor is quick-witted and receptive to our responses, indulging in both light-hearted jokes and dark humour.

Is it an hour of a young woman offloading her trauma onto us? Yes, but what we stand to gain from that is a deeper connection to Westerman, and a greater appreciation for the benefits of community grieving. How ironic that a show named Batman makes such a compelling case against grieving in solitude.

Batman (aka Naomi’s Death Show) is now playing at VAULT Festival until 5 March.

Production Images: Little But Fierce.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Batman (aka Naomi’s Death Show) for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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