‘I Will Still Be Whole (When You Rip Me In Half)’ review – A vivid and descriptive family separation drama

Aoife Hinds (Derry Girls) and Tuyen Do (King of Hell’s Palace) portray a fractured mother-daughter relationship in Ava Wong Davies’ poetic script – ★★★★

I am reminded of the Bush Theatre’s Going Through when watching Ava Wong Davies’ I Will Still Be Whole at The Bunker Theatre. Another play about a daughter seeking her mother, both are identical in their masterful  and lyrical use of language and imagination, as well as their exploration of identity.

Mother and daughter are apart, but their monologues and performances seem intertwined. Their opening dialogues sound like a conversation, their rapport fine and precise. As individual actresses, Hinds plays daughter EJ with sharpness and curiosity, an intriguing contrast to that of Do, whose mother Joy is one clearly shaped by motherhood. With intricacy and delicacy, Do’s performance is astonishing.

For a play so visionary, its unfortunate disadvantage is a lack of grounding. With the exception of a miniature but incredibly detailed set design from Grace Venning and warm lighting from Ben Kulvichit, most of the setting comes from the pair’s visionary descriptions. Wong Davies is skilful in creating such large-scale scenes off-stage in our minds that when choreographed or real-time scenes occur on-stage, the journey back into the moment has the potential to disorientate, not least when a pulsating, underlying score makes me wonder if someone’s phone is going off rather than heightening the natural pacing and tension.

Though as a whole, ‘natural’ is perhaps the best word to describe I Will Still Be Whole. Exeunt critic Wong Davies’ use of the written word is rich and erudite, Do and Hinds’ chemistry in-sync and effortless, and centre-stage lies several small, pink-leaved trees. In a hour, this production blooms.

I Will Still Be Whole (When You Rip Me In Half) is now playing at The Bunker Theatre until 23 November.

Production Images: Fran Cattaneo.

Disclaimer: I was invited to see I Will Still Be Whole (When You Rip Me In Half) for free as someone who is currently a part of the Almeida Theatre’s Young Critics scheme, which sees us respond to artistic pieces. I was not explicitly requested to review the show, but as part of the scheme I was asked to produce a piece of creative writing in response to the play. I did not receive any payment for any of this, and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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