i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) (Bunker Theatre)

Despite the recent news that the Bunker will be closing its doors in March 2020 due to redevelopment of its site, Chris Sonnex and his team continue to programme interesting and challenging work.

i will still be whole is the most recent play by writer and critic Ava Wong Davies. A piece written for two women to perform, it explores the delicate balance between the mother-daughter bond and the individual sense of self.

Joy (Tuyen Do) is the mother of Esther, known as EJ (Aoife Hinds), but she has not been present in her life for years. In a prelude and two scenes, they only truly speak to and interact with each other during the third segment, when their awkwardness brings an uncomfortable and disturbing feel to the proceedings.

Aoife Hinds as EJ, Tuyen Do as Joy
Aoife Hinds as EJ, Tuyen Do as Joy

We never get a feel for why Joy walked away, and when she seems open to explanation, EJ doesn’t want to know. Her relationship with her dad, who needs care after a slight stroke, seems complex, but is left unexplored.

There are the flimsiest of connections between the two women: the noisy pipes next to the bedroom wall, the eyes EJ has inherited from her Chinese mother. Neither know about flowers. Both are reticent, and mirror each other’s movements at times as if the umbilical cord that once bound them was never truly broken.

i will still be whole is tightly written in terms of dialogue, but the playscript leaves the stage directions open to interpretation (“it should take as long as it takes”) for the more profound moments. It can be assumed that director Helen Morley has worked in collaboration with Do and Hinds to make these broken women, not really whole without each other, not really whole when they are together, feel believable.

Aoife Hinds and Tuyen Do
Aoife Hinds and Tuyen Do

The set by Grace Venning is full of weeds and untended greenery; we are in the garden where EJ crouches, watching the fox, and in the space where Joy runs to the first meeting in thirteen years with the child she carried, nurtured and abandoned.

Wong Davies weaves deeply poetic language into an everyday situation – the attempted reconciliation of an estranged family. In her dialogue, Joy and EJ exchange pleasantries while their body language betrays their real feelings, and before they meet their interior monologues explore physical conflicts at odd with the words they speak.

At the end, Joy tells a story about a baby bird, crushed at the foot of a tree. It’s a telling moment from a woman who admitted feeling nothing for the child she was “full of”. Where do they go from here?

i will still be whole continues at the Bunker to the 23 November. You can book tickets at The Bunker’s website. Images by Fran Cattaneo.