A Little Piece of Ash – The memory of that which we must learn to forget. (Theatre Review)
A Little Piece of Ash
Jackrabbit Theatre at KXT
16-26 April. You can grab your tickets here.
Many thinkers argue we grieve in order to stop grieving. What we are aware of, for we have all grieved at some level, is the existence of a tension between the oppressive memory of the past and the liberatory nature of a promise of the future. It is this tension that Megan Wilding beautifully evokes in her vey personal and yet undeniably universal examination of grief in A Little Piece of Ash. This work of mourning acts as a consciousness of the unjust foundations of the present and offers, as Toni Morrison would say “some kind of tomorrow.” It is a masterwork in pinning down the ceaseless labour of remembrance, encased in community, that teaches us how to live in memory. As Megan Wilding writes about the modern Aboriginal woman, A Little Piece of Ash radically redefines the borders of community by revealing how she lives in memory of the dead and all those whose living human presence continues to be disavowed by a current world order. In offering her delicately crafted story, Megan Wilding moves beyond the general grouping of post-colonial and offers a common horizon of emancipation, and one that exceeds any legislative accomplishment. Therefore, we (particularly us ‘good white folk’) bare witness to something impossible in a colonial environment – not because of an absent telling, but because of an absent hearing.
At its imminently accessible surface, A Little Piece of Ash is the touching story of how Megan Wilding manages her personal and cultural grief over the death of her mother. Part eulogy, part universal memory, images and events similar to one’s connection to the maternal are called forth and displayed with profound joi de vivre and deep respect. Wrapped around this is the impossible-to-miss relation between observer and actor, and the way an invited voyeurism evokes many of the complexities of a post-colonial telling of a previously absent narrative. To ‘invite’ a previously absent voice to ‘tell its story’ is to reinforce its original absence. That which has been radically excluded from the category of the human is not presentable on the same plane of representation. Megan Wilding’s great skill as a playwright is to make a kind of unification via inconsolable mourning which becomes a consciousness of the unjust foundation of the present. To present to us a memory based mourning alongside her distinct Aboriginality is to have us experience a kind of remembrance of the future. Inside this is the possibility of a different future, a future that would not simply be a repetition of the past, is an eternal dependence on a never-ending labour of remembrance. We watch as an impassioned Jedda (Stephanie Somerville) struggles with, not only the death of her mother, but also the difficult task of how to properly remember her.
Through it all, we are perpetually reminded that A Little Piece of Ash is a piece of writing and the author is a woman writing about the death of her own mother. Unlike a religious ceremony, A Little Piece of Ash becomes an intensely private experience that makes a singular appeal to every member of the audience even as it evokes a small community gathered inside the theatre. When Megan Wilding guides the audience through a quiet meditation of sorts, it allows for connection between the personal and the collective, the ethical and the political. It is not enough to state that the play allows the audience to experience the political asd the personal, to work through the loss as if it were our own. In fact the play forces the audience to confront our insertion in the collective, the way in which our individual history is never actually pour own. In this way, A Little Piece of Ash allows us to work through our relation to history and our collective memory in a post-colonial world. It is not so much a communal act as an act of a community.
As the writer and cast member Lily, Megan Wilding also directs the production. The production lives and breathes her presence, becoming an enriching communal experience. On a beautifully simple set design by Ella Butler (filled with thrilling colour) a small simple room becomes the universe upon which Jasmine Rizk’s lights and Ben Pierpoints sound come together to evoke the expanse we need to fill ourselves up with Megan Wildings messages.
She has assembled an exuberant, lively, fun cast filled with the beauty of youth and the innocence associated with the early stages of life’s journey. Stephanie Somerville is an exquisite Jedda, playing Megan Wilding against herself in witty piece of meta theatre. She rides the waves of emotion her writer offers with great skill, carrying us along for every ride with ease. Toby Blome is charming and extremely funny as Eddie. Alex Malone Is charming as Ned, but particularly comes to delightful life when she plays many of the small vignettes evoked to presence history. Moreblessing Maturure is extremly funny, clever and so beautiful as the ‘great friend’ Mendy. Luke Fewster is a standout as Chuck in a delightful scene where he plays the sort of friend I can only imagine I would want by my side at a time of mourning.
A Little Piece of Ash is a deeply personal tale that manages to connect the audience with, not only the exquisite teller, but also with other audience members. It is a fascinating production that stands as a classic example of how best we talk about stories we have made absent in the past and include now out of a remembrance of that absence. Megan Wilding’s dignity shines through every clever word, every beautiful movement, and it is a great joy to spend and hour and half in her marvelous presence.