Review by Sam Waite
“And in that moment I realise that I'm Batman,” says Naomi Westerman, before ending her short, gripping story with a final, daunting choice for her audience. In Batman (aka Naomi’s Death Show), Westerman presents a sort of game show blended with an affecting tragicomedy, a strictly one-woman show which also involves audience participation. As you may well have guessed, death is a key aspect of both sides of the show.
Naomi begins her Death Show with a friendly game of bingo, coupled with a sinister series of yes or no questions – for each image on the bingo cards, were asked to guess whether the featured animal or object has been part of a near death experience for our host. Once sweets have been distributed to the winners, a more traditional one-person play begins with a singular twist. Should any of the audience activate their bat signal – squeeze the squeaky toy adorned with the famous symbol – Westerman will pause her storytelling and spin a wheel on which various activities are listed, and we will join her in whichever it lands on.
The story itself is at times harrowing, but often peppered with hard-won humour in Naomi’s part. She tells the tale of being in the streets as a teenager, her first time shoplifting, and eventually the devastation and feeling of powerlessness that comes with losing a parents. At key moments, she asks that we hold up one side of the other of a sheet of laminate containing two colours of paper – a rudimentary way to dictate where we the audience would prefer the story to take us. This allows for the feeling of a unique experience to build up through the work, and for moments of self-examination as we take a moment to question our choices.
Options on the wheel included a discussion of “hacks” for carrying out a murder, a conversation about scents we associate with loved ones who have passed, and one particularly affecting moment. Westerman, Jewish though not well-taught about the practises in her earlier life, laments having not had the opportunity to sit Shiva after her mother’s passing – having explained to us what this entails, she opens herself up to a shared moment of mourning as everyone is encouraged to eat a snack given to them upon entry, and anyone who wishes to is welcomed to light a candle for someone they have lost.
Moments like this demonstrate the power and humanity of Westerman’s work, and she along with director Katharina Reinthaller, have crafted a well-paced hour of entertainment with ample opportunity for both hearts and minds to be opened. These two women don't throw all the bells and whistles at their audience, and trust that what is written is powerful enough to keep the audience engaged. This is a wise decision, as even without the bat signal interference the central story is well-told and the emotional highs and lows are given ample room to make their impact.
Not only a bold, insightful playwright, Naomi is also a stellar performer, excelling both as a comedic host in the opening moments of easing in her audience, and in the darker, more dramatically laden moments where her expressions and change in vocal quality convey powerful emotions with delicacy and ease.
Following this brief run at the Vault Festival, Naomi Westerman continues to write for stage and screen – along with a debut TV series currently in the works, she has her first book set to be published in 2024.
Follow https://mobile.twitter.com/NaomiJWesterman to stay up to date on her future projects.