22 years on since Joy walked out on her baby EJ, this mother and daughter reunite in Ava Wong Davies’ play I Will Still Be Whole (When You Rip Me In Half). Despite the heavy sounding synopsis, the performance is surprisingly tender, with the emotional bulk of the play bubbling in the subtext, not spilling over at boiling point.
Wong Davies’ play is made up of a series of monologues, tied together at the end by the much anticipated reunion. The script really is joyous; it reminds me what magic can be made when someone puts pen to paper. The script narrates the characters’ journey so poetically, not by stringing together heaps of long, pretty words, but by simply observing the beauty of human emotion. It’s animated and vibrant, feeling somewhat timeless in its storytelling style.
The mother daughter duo is made up of Tuyen Do as Joy and Aoife Hinds as EJ. Both perform with a softness that this script stylistically encourages. This approach makes some moments feel incredibly sincere, but some feel insufficiently explored. The monologues are performed well, but with the audience in the know from the word go as to where the play is headed, there are times when I am looking for the impending reunion to arrive faster. When it does happen, both actors shine. The scene’s writing and delivery just feel right but, then it’s gone. With only one shared scene, the success of this single moment only makes me wish there were more.
The structure of this hour play means that both performers share the stage even when one isn’t speaking. During one another’s silent moments, each perform choreographed movement. I understand the instinct to have something happen in these interludes, but what does happen is very simple and doesn’t stand up next to this detailed script. I’m not contesting the sentiment that less is sometimes more; the simplicity complements some moments, but in others it just feels lacking.
This show really does take you by surprise—a play that you may expect to be overtly serious is fuelled instead by a quiet confidence in the power of honesty that has not been tampered with for optimum drama. I only wish there were one or two more layers to the performance; that way I believe the play would not just be a success, but it would soar.
I Will Still Be Whole (When You Rip Me In Half) is playing The Bunker until 23 November. For more information and tickets, see The Bunker’s website.