By Carly Fisher
Sydney audiences may have been introduced to Megan Wilding as the Aboriginal Superhero, Blackie Blackie Brown, but it is in her new role, as writer, director and performer in A Little Piece of Ash, that Wilding’s superpowers of the stage truly shine. Currently playing as part of Jack Rabbit Theatre’s Hijacked season at KXT, this show is a new Australian gem and a piece of theatre that I sincerely hope is only at the beginning of a long run around the country.
The success of the show ultimately lies in its reality and relatability – if you have lost a parent, no doubt this story could feel like your own, if you haven’t, this story is almost a cautionary tale. But more than that, the show sings because of its heart and you can tell that Wilding has certainly worn her heart on her sleeve to ensure that this is the beautiful piece of theatre that we are witnessing. Inspired by the loss of her own mum, this story is clearly deeply personal and has been crafted with a love and respect that you cannot create or fake, Wilding has poured herself into this piece and the Australian theatre canon is richer for it.
The show focuses on Jedda (Stephanie Somerville), affectionately known by her mum, Lily (Wilding), as ‘Bub,’ from the day that she finds out that her mum has passed away and through her grieving process. Somerville, who makes her Sydney stage debut, delicately takes on this role, and carefully poses her moments of grief with just the right amount of emotion to make Jedda both believable and heartbreaking. Whilst moments with the series of ‘others’ who enter her life were at times played in somewhat of a heightened reality, her relationship to Lily was truthful throughout and this allowed her performance to certainly shine.
Entering her life through her stages of grief were friends and potential lovers – Mendy, Eddie, Ned and Chuck. Mendy (Moreblessing Maturure) happens to be with Jedda just moments after she receives ‘that’ call. She bumbles and tries to be there for her with her information on the stages of grieving – albeit far too early – and whilst she aims to be the perfect friend who brings the perfect gift in a time of need, she and her can of coke end up being little more than an interruption from Jedda’s chain smoking and a the punching bag for her initial shock. Maturure takes on the role of Mendy well, displaying both her genuine concern for her friend but also her lack of ability to properly deal with it with great charm.
Chuck (Luke Fewster) is the friend everyone in their mid-20s knows that they need on a day like this – the friend that will turn up with a backpack full of cheap wine and honesty. Fewster’s performance as both Chuck and as an ensemble member throughout is skilfully light – he brings great humour and warmth to the piece. Fewster is certainly one to watch.
Ned (Alex Malone) returns to Jedda’s life to attend Lily’s funeral. Best friends as teens, the two haven’t spoken in a while, evidently giving up their relationship because of a disagreement about Jedda’s decision to leave her mum, despite her illness, to attend university in Perth. Malone is no stranger to the Jack Rabbit stage and it is a treat to see her in another production as she delivers an authenticity to her performances, again both as Ned and in the ensemble, that is rare to find.
Finally Eddie (Toby Blome), the would-have-been-one-night-stand that was meant to soothe Jedda’s grief. Socially awkward and stuck between being ‘the nice guy’ and being the guy who may actually get kissed, Eddie and Jedda’s night emotionally throws them both for a spin. Blome’s command of comedy is flawless! A perfect casting decision.
And then there is Lily herself who, despite having passed on, is an ever-present figure on stage. Sitting, enjoying her tea, reading her book and more than anything, just enjoying watching Jedda – a proud mum through and through. Wilding, though young herself, has tapped into a wisdom in taking on this character that is both endearing to the audience and heartbreaking to Jedda who cannot work out why her mother always feels so near, a ‘peak-a-boo’s’ game away, although she is gone. Importantly, Wilding has included parts of Aboriginal culture and the process of grieving throughout this piece and has found a way to generously explain it to all those in the audience who, she acknowledges, may not understand. It is beautifully done and allows for a stunning balance between inclusion of all audiences but total respect and homage to her heritage to be achieved.
Wilding has accomplished something rare with this, her first full length play. It may, in her own words be ‘a trauma baby,’ but I sincerely hope that its success gives some feeling of purpose to that trauma. Congratulations Megan, this is something special.
Photo Credit: Clare Hawley
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.