Theatre Review: i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) ★★★ / Before I Was A Bear ★★★★

Two very different one-act plays are currently residing in London’s Bunker Theatre with a common thread running through them – young queer women looking for connection.

The opening play, i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) kicks things off with a shock. A young Chinese mother in London picks up her bag and walks out of the front door, abandoning her daughter and husband. As an adult, the daughter drifts through her life (crap job, fleeting romances) living with her father. Finally, decades later, mother and daughter reconnect. Playwright Ava Wong Davies fills the tale with specificity, where race and sexuality are not the issue, but fill the world with broader context. 

The mother, Joy (Tuyen Do) is a ball of anxiety. Her life is good but not great and while she has no regrets about her decision to leave, she retains an air of guilt. Her daughter EJ (Aoife Hinds) meanwhile lacks any foundations upon which to build her life. It’s only towards the end of the play that we realise her eventful night (midweek clubbing, making out with a stranger, watching a house as it burns) is all an act of defiance, the night before she meets her mother for the first time since she left. She’s dealing with her emotions the only way she knows how. 

Play Two switches the tone, with a lashing of humour. Before I Was A Bear is the story of a young woman who… has turned into a bear! 

Cally is a pretty average London girl. She works in a pub, she has every intention of doing the right thing, but you know, life happens. She’s had a few boyfriends but no keepers. She has a friends-with-benefits thing going on with best friend Carla, but they never talk about it. And then one night in a pub (a different pub, not the one she works at) she sees someone she recognises from the TV… and things begin to get messy.

Before I Was A Bear looks at what happens when the fluidity of youth hits a very modern form of online rage. Playwright Eleanor Tindall is one to watch. This monologue is pin-sharp in its observations and joyful in its use of form and structure; this isn’t just someone speaking, this is theatre that just happens to only feature one performer on stage. It’s wickedly funny and Aneesha Srinivasan’s direction amplifies the text’s absurdity and humanity. Jacoba Williams (who plays Cally) is instantly likeable and had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand – even when things become morally-questionable. 

This is the first production by Broccoli, a new theatre production team with a focus on works made by, for or with lesbian, bisexual and queer women, and it’s a big winner. I can’t wait to see more from them.

Taken individually, both shows are strong and totally different in tone and style, but as a double-bill they complement each other, giving you a well-rounded emotional evening that leaves you walking out on a high. 

i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) and Before I Was A Bear play at the Bunker Theatre till 23 November. Tickets can be purchased individually, or together at a reduced price.

i will still be whole (when you rip me in half) ★★★
Photo credit: Fran Cattaneo

Before I Was A Bear ★★★★
Photo credit: Tara Rooney

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