Growing up, we are fed society’s morals and its expectations of us and our future. We know the standard pattern – school, A-levels, uni, career, babies – but life doesn’t always go as planned. It has darker sides and, as a foreigner in a new country, it’s hard to settle into the pattern and avoid the temptations the underground life has to offer.
Amba dreams of becoming a dancer. Having fled Congo with her auntie, she finds herself in a new culture with lots of offers, some very hard to resist. She is expected to go through the education system like any other Brit, but the temptation of money leads her into the world of lap dancing. If boys are going to grab your arse every day for free why not get paid for it? Eleanor, a friend of Amba’s auntie and former lap dancer herself, is determined to lead Amba down the right path and secure her a place at uni, but for Amba it’s money and an attractive option that can change her life around.
Women have always been objectified by men in some way. Where men would say we are in control as we have the power to use our sexuality over them, many women find themselves powerless and assaulted by men and their objectification. In our modern society women are being sexually exploited more than ever, and though it seems like their own choice, it often isn’t the case. And it is this vicious circle writer/director Laura McCluskey studies in Cake and Congo.
Cake and Congo is loaded with important and exciting material, and McCluskey writes with a great understanding of characters and drive. The young Amba (Akiya Henry) is especially juicy and deepens as a character as she falls into the trap of quick, sleazy money. Both Jade Williams’s Eleanor and Faith Edwards’s Leonie show great pain and inner life, and it’s exciting to see four very strong women on stage, speaking for themselves and their sex. However the whole cast has moments where they disconnect slightly from each other and a few moments seem a bit rehearsed.
The piece has great and meaty subjects but throws too many different arguments out in the open, trying to cover too many sides of one story, making it a bit messy and broad. McCluskey emphasises the importance of an education alongside cultural differences and women’s exploitation, which all fit nicely together but come across as slightly clumpy. Together with a few clichés it does seem a tad generalised, however it is obvious McCluskey writes with passion, and overall it is an interesting and thoughtful piece of theatre.
Cake and Congo is playing at Theatre503 until 14 September. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre503 website.