“My trauma baby” is how Megan Wilding describes her first full-length play, A Little Piece of Ash, one of the best playwriting debuts I’ve seen in some time.
One way or another, this baby is going to have a life beyond this production.
Wilding is on stage throughout as Lilly, the recently deceased mother of Jedda (Stephanie Somerville), a first-year uni student.
Lilly sits at the head of the traverse stage, sipping her favourite tea. She chats to the audience occasionally, but mostly she watches her daughter’s attempts to come to terms with her death.
Jedda is grief-stricken but angrily so. She chain-smokes, 15 or 20 ciggies in a row. Friends offer advice and distraction (of the two bottles of wine for $12 variety).
Comfort sex is a possibility – with the gentle but utterly out-of-his-depth pick-up named Eddie – but nothing seems to cut through and the guilt Jedda feels over a missed phone call gnaws and gnaws …
Much in A Little Piece of Ash speaks to societal issues regarding our handling of death and mourning, and in particular, to what level of feeling is considered acceptable and appropriate.
As an Indigenous woman, however, Wilding also speaks to the ways in which First Nations people have been deprived of family, community, lore and the right to sorry business as each sees fit.
Then there’s the elephant in the room: If Lilly were a white middle-aged woman, would she have been so ill for so long? Would she have died at the age she did?
It’s difficult terrain, obviously. But Wilding’s warm tone, matter-of-fact humour and lively character writing makes this a surprisingly buoyant experience. That said, those who have lost a parent will see the truthfulness in the play’s observations and will find them inescapably moving.
Wilding – incredibly – also directs (with assistance from Lincoln Vickery) and does so very well. The production is dynamic, sharply performed and technically tight.
Making her Sydney stage debut, Somerville is a convincing mess of feeling and self-destructive impulse as Jedda, and Wilding provides her with a vivacious gallery of peers to clash with: the awkwardly supportive uni friend Mendy (Moreblessing Maturure); the flamboyant undergraduate wit Chuck (Luke Fewster); Alex Malone’s spiritually inclined Ned, a childhood friend who has drifted away; and Eddie, the naïve young man played by Toby Blome.
And Wilding’s Lilly, who almost always sees the funny side of things (who knew that one of the things you might miss most in death is a tomato?) is delightful.