Kings Cross Theatre, April 17
How many plays dare to deal with death – or more precisely, with the relationship between the dead and those they’ve left behind? The title refers to the cremated remains of Lily, Jedda’s mother. Just because she’s dead doesn’t mean she intends abandoning the grown-up daughter she still calls “Bub”. The bond is too tight for that. When she first held Jedda after giving birth, Lily tells us, “I entwined myself in her” – and that’s how she intends things to stay, death or no death.
A Little Piece of Ash, Megan Wilding’s response to losing her own mother, is, impressively, the Gamilaroi artist’s first full-length play. Wilding also directed this world premiere (for JackRabbit Theatre), and plays Lily to Stephanie Somerville’s Jedda. The story covers a month of Jedda stumbling down the lonely road of denial, anger, grief and acceptance, variously aided and thwarted by her friends. It’s a circuitous route to a climax that rocks you back on your heels.
While Jedda inches her way toward accepting that voice of her mother that she hears in her head is her mother’s voice, much of the interaction with other characters, especially Mendy (Moreblessing Maturure), Chuck (Luke Fewster) and Eddie (Toby Blome), seems peripheral. The exception is her old girlfriend, Ned (Alex Malone), who sows the seed that Lily remains a presence, not just a memory.
Throughout these scenes Lily is watching and commentating, although more could have been made of this. Sometimes we miss Lily’s reactions and asides, our focus being elsewhere on the stage. Yet Lily is the play’s soul, and Wilding compellingly delivers her longer speeches, which are generally more pivotal to the play’s trajectory than what is happening with Jedda. She spears us with Lily’s frustration: with sickness when alive; with Jedda’s denial when dead.
Somerville is less assured in an awkward role, which initially has Jedda responding with exaggerated flippancy. The less ambiguous Jedda’s emotional state, the stronger Somerville’s performance. Malone is a playful, feisty Ned, while Fewster, Blome and especially Maturure wrestle valiantly with characters who have too many implausible lines. These four also share recurring (and redundant) mimed characters from a hazy childhood that could be Lily’s or Jedda’s.
The play is affecting and, at its best, genuinely potent. It just needs another draft zeroing in on mother and daughter, and a production containing more consistently gripping performances.