…cake is a psychological drama by babriye bukilwa premiering at Theatre Peckham. We are greeted by a strikingly simplistic and yet sublime set by Debbie Duru. The shoddily white washes walls with the cement beneath peeking through; the plastic bowls to catch water from a leaking ceiling; the collection of ailing houseplants.
Sissy, portrayed by Danielle Kassarate, enters in her grey cropped nightie, dressing gown and slippers with a lit spliff in her hand. She plays record after record and cruises around the space. The play starts slowly, we watch her glide around for several minutes. The beginning sets up strongly for a play that occurs in real time in front of our eyes. Perhaps we too are in Sissy’s living room. Interrupting Sissy’s haze of an evening is Eshe who raps loudly on the door, repeatedly. She eventually lets herself in. Sissy won’t hear. Sissy is surprised to see her, she clearly hasn’t been around for a while.
Eshe’s shirt is untucked and she is flustered. I admit, at first I am unsure of the relationship between these women. Are they mother and daughter? Are they lovers with a significant age gap? Mother and daughter is correct, but actually the ambiguity is a sign of the relationship’s strain and its flaws. Due to her mother’s turmoil and unhealthy coping mechanisms, Eshe cannot be a daughter to her. At least not in a conventional way.
The piece is a slow burner, necessary in a real time performance, and is highly naturalistic. The rawness of this is the true strength of the piece and I feel a deep pain in the pit of my stomach watching these two women interact. Never before have I seen such a real portrayal of the trauma that is passed between generations and the increasing realisation of the fallibility of our parents.
There are moments in the piece that do not work for me – repetitive voiceovers of the thoughts of Eshe and Sissy are distracting, and for me, do not let the power of the unsaid speak to the audience. At one point there is a shower of water into one of the many plastic bowls that litter the stage – the flow surges during an emotional moment but, for me, it feels more of a distraction from Eshe’s words that are being spoken at that moment. In such a naturalistic play, these moments that remind us of our seats in the theatre are unnecessary and detract from bukilwa’s subtle and moving script.
…cake is unlike any other piece I have seen before and is a testament to the strength of women, our roots and resilience in the face of adversity. A devastating and necessary watch.
…cake is playing at Theatre Peckham until 7 August. For more information and tickets see Theatre Peckham’s website.