Freelance Critic, Ava Wong Davies, is best known for her reviews in Exeunt Magazine and The Stage. With, ‘i will still be whole (when you rip me in half)’, she has boldly crossed the threshold from reviewing the work of others to presenting work of her own to be reviewed.
In its opening scene, Joy (Tuyen Do) abandons her baby girl. The pair don’t meet again for another 22 years and we follow them during the day leading up to their first reunion. For the majority of the play, the duo narrate their individual experiences in turn. They circle around each other, but don’t talk directly to one another until their reunion. Joy devotes more of her time to reflecting on her complicated decision from 22 years ago. But she dances around the topic, never showing strong feelings of remorse nor regret. Meanwhile, her daughter EJ (Aoife Hinds) mostly describes her journey back home after a night out.
Ava Wong Davies’ debut play demonstrates that even if you have an exceptional gift for writing critically about the theatre and demarcating great shows from the weaker ones, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to craft the best show in town when in the writer’s seat. That being said, she has had an impressive crack at it with this piece, where there are many things worthy of admiration.
Based on the title alone, it’s clear that this is an Ava Wong Davies show. If you’ve followed her Twitter account for long enough, you’ll know that writing in all lowercase is her signature thing. But I wouldn’t read too much into meaning of the title itself. I’d also avoid reading too much into how exactly the image of the woman with a gun on the show’s promotional materials connects with the play.
Another signature style of hers is the peculiar yet fascinating way she is able to describe something. In her review of Orange Tree’s recent production of ‘Little Baby Jesus’ for example, she says it as “stickily delightful as stretching a piece of chewing gum between finger and thumb”.
Her play overflows with these original ‘isms’.
EJ talks about how the music bubbles underneath the bathroom door at a night club and Joy explains how her fried egg is coughing and spluttering in the frying pan. This creates a vivid sense of what is going on in what could otherwise be described as fairly mundane settings. (These are not direct quotes, I unfortunately don’t have the play text). These lyrical descriptions set the tone of the piece and there’s a pleasing tonal cohesion between the show’s staging, lighting and overall direction.
The premise of the show is an intriguing one as you’re immediately curious to know what the mother’s motivations for abandoning her child might be. But by prioritising descriptions of how the moss pulses in the wall and these other ‘isms’, as wonderful as they may be, meaningful character development has been sacrificed. The final scene brings a welcome change of pace as the pair meet and converse for the first time. But, as we haven’t got to know them that well by this point, it’s hard to be deeply invested in what the eventual outcome of their meeting is.
Sometimes when I do read some uncomfortably scathing reviews (mostly from Ben Brantley), I do wonder whether certain critics could do any better themselves. I predict not. Ava Wong Davies has proved here that she doesn’t just ‘talk the talk’ but she can also ‘walk the walk’ too by creating this piece which she should be immensely proud of.
i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) is running at the Bunker Theatre until 23 November at the time of writing. https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/i-will-still-be-whole
Photo Credit: Fran Cattaneo
Cast: Tuyen Do, Aoife Hinds
Creatives: Playwright – Ava Wong Davies, Director – Helen Morley, Producer – Emily Davis, Sound Design – Jord Rice, Lighting Design – Ben Kulvichit, Set and Costume – Grace Venning, Production Manager – Jamie King-Cox, Stage Manager – Zara Janmohamed