Theatre – A Little Piece of Ash

Written By: Megan Wilding
Directed By: Megan Wilding

In this time of “Tiger Mothers”, “Bad Mothers”, “Unavailable Mothers”, “Controlling Mothers” and many more negative representations of the mother-child bond, A Little Piece of Ash beautifully acknowledges the physical and spiritual connection between mother and daughter.

Photo: Clare Hawley.

Jedda (Stephanie Somerville) has just received the news of her mother’s death, and unable to take it in, she sits silently chain-smoking. Her countless cigarettes reference her anger, a very deep and destructive anger, not only with herself but also with her mother, Lily (Megan Wilding). She thinks Lily let herself die by refusing to seek proper medical attention and she feels guilt for not having been there for her.

When visited by a well-meaning friend Mendy (Moreblessing Maturure) who has bothered to commit the Kübler-Ross phases of grieving to memory, and who sweetly explains why her gift of a can of Coca-Cola should bring comfort, Jedda is impatient. She finds no relief in getting drunk with Chuck (Luke Fewster) and, despite the amusing antics of try-hard Eddie (Toby Blome), she does not find escape in sex. Only Ned (Alex Malone) speculates on the possibility that death is not the separation it seems, but Jedda is irritated by her sentimental mysticism.

Each of these episodes is punctuated by the happy cavorting of two figures, one in a short ballet skirt, the other wearing the hallmark mother-wear of the early 70s, the poncho, whose enactment of childhood is interrupted by the ringing of a telephone. The two clutch each other in dread looking upward expecting a catastrophe – the end of a world in which they are recognised as “child” – that the news of her mother’s death will bring. The phone rings out and the adult Jedda’s recorded message falls heavily into the silence.

As Jedda struggles to find a way to grieve, her mother sits watching her with concern, with humour and with yearning. Comfortable in an armchair, a teacup in hand and teapot close beside on a table overflowing with domestic detritus, Lily is an image of maternal protection. She chips in every now and again, is particularly vocal about Jedda’s smoking, and is amused when she discovers details kept secret from her. Although Jedda cannot see or hear her mother, she blames her inability to grieve on her feeling that her mother “has not gone”.

The eventual “going” is as painful for Lily as is accepting her mother’s physical death for Jedda. Lily’s knowledge that she will transition into the Dreaming following bodily death gives her a certainty and serenity, but is difficult for her to separate from Jedda, in whose life she has been “entwined” since the moment of her daughter’s birth. Only after an angry and painful confrontation followed by reconciliation can Lily depart, freeing Jedda with the gift of white ochre, the promise of continual spiritual protection.

A Little Piece of Ash is a warm and profound play, with a dedicated team of actors and creative staging given the small performance space. While Somerville played her demanding role with sincerity, her task could have been lightened by more dialogue with Wilding, whose stage presence is both moving and powerful.

A Little Piece of Ash is at KXT bAKEHOUSE from April 17-26, 2019.

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