BROUGHT up in Fulford, schooled at The Mount, Bella Heesom became an actor, writer and theatre maker.

On Saturday, she returns to York to present her debut play My World Has Exploded A Little Bit at the Theatre Royal Studio. "I grew up in York, so this one-off performance is especially significant for me, as it's a bit of a homecoming," she says.

Directed by Olivier Award-winner Donnacadh O’Briain, 'My World' is part true story, part farcical performance lecture. "It's a deeply personal account of my absurdly logical approach to dealing with the deaths of my parents, told through a darkly comic, increasingly absurd 17-step guide to bereavement," says Bella, who explores "the beauty and agony of confronting grief in an increasingly secular society" in her Logical, Philosophical Guide to Managing Mortality.

Joined by actor/musician Eva Alexander, Bella's show features unflinching honesty; tender poetry; a hard-hitting philosophical discussion of death without a god, and clownish silliness with a portable urinal.

Alexander plays Bella's hapless assistant; a mischievous, clown-like character who ineptly demonstrates the awkward, sometimes comical realities of patient care and sings inappropriate songs about brain tumours (the cause of Bella's father's death in 2010).

Elizabeth Harper provides a multimedia design featuring projected text and dreamlike animated sketches, supported by a live piano score composed by Anna O’Grady.

Bella's story of loss and love, shot through with jet-black comedy and live music, arrives in York after a national tour supported by Arts Council England, having earlier played the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe and the 2017 VAULT Festival in London.

The subject matter takes Bella back to her days in York when "my friends and fellow pupils at The Mount supported me through my mum's illness – Multiple Sclerosis, diagnosed when I was four – and even helped run events to raise money for her to receive experimental treatment," she recalls.

"By the time I went to university, she required 24-hour care, and by the end, she had a tube going into her stomach to feed her, but because her death was gradual, it wasn't a tragedy at that point. In fact it was my dad who died first and that was much more sudden. His diagnosis was entirely unexpected; he was only 49; he'd always been healthy, so it was a bolt out of the blue.

"My mum died a couple of years later in 2012, on my birthday in fact. I was 27, and I was just getting over the grief of my father's death, and I thought I could fast forward my grief for my mum, because I'd done this dramatic grieving process for my dad, but it turned out I didn't give myself enough time to grieve for her."

Starting to write down her thoughts in 2013 helped, however. "I found it therapeutic writing about my grief, and at first it was private, rather than committing it to anyone, so that made me feel safe but the thought was in the back of my mind that it could become a play. I was thinking, 'this is quite good actually, maybe I could show it to people'," says Bella.

Keen to break the taboo around death and open up a conversation, Bella has been inspired by people sharing their own stories with her after seeing the play. "I’ve been blown away by the response," she says. "People laugh a lot, and they cry a lot. I was so struck by the audience reaction to the first performance in Edinburgh, that ever since then I’ve been offering hugs to everyone at the end of each show. A lot of people seem to really need it."

Bella was last involved in a theatre show in York while studying at The Mount. "It makes you feel old trying to remember," she says. "I directed the Lower Sixth production of [Shakespeare's] Twelfth Night in 2001, and my strongest memory of a play I was in was Macbeth, playing Macduff, throwing a stool across stage when she discovers her family has been killed.

"There was also Helen Of Troy where I was on stage all the time, never stopped crying and would look up at the bright stage lights to get my eyes to water."

Hence she says she has "very happy memories of York", not least of Dame Judi Dench, the city's most celebrated acting talent. "As a budding actor, I was thrilled to meet Mount old scholar Judi Dench, who was kind enough to support me in my theatrical endeavours later in life," says Bella.

"She made a contribution to a charitable production of Some Explicit Polaroids that I performed in while studying philosophy at Cambridge University, and even generously gave me some money towards the fees for my training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), when I was worried I wouldn't be able to accept my place due to financial difficulties."

Looking forward to being in York once more, Bella says: "It will be special to bring the play home to York, where so many happy memories with my mum, Yasmin, were made."

All About You presents Bella Heesom in My World Has Exploded A Little Bit, York Theatre Royal Studio, Saturday (April 28), 7.45pm. Tickets: £12.50 on 01904 623568 or at

Did you know?

York-born actor Bella Heesom and director Donnacadh O’Briain are developing their next show at the Ovalhouse in London: a celebration of female sexuality entitled Rejoicing At Her Wondrous Vulva The Young Woman Applauded Herself. Bella's new podcast, Rejoicing With Bella, a series of in-depth conversations exploring and celebrating female sexuality, is available on iTunes and via her website,