At the Theatre Peckham, on a hot and sticky summer night, just before lockdown is lifted, we sit socially distanced to share ‘…cake’ by Babirye Bukilwa – layered, rich and enticing.
…cake is a new play that builds on the expressive work of many theatre companies, where the physical and emotional or the real or theatrical clash. However, this play is layered with a psychological undertones, where emotional disruption and brutality challenge identity itself; it is not just asking who we are but also what we are. It explores how we play out our role when it is compromised, not only by ourselves, or our forefathers but by societal expectations.
A two hander, mother and daughter struggle to communicate to relate, to give and to take – on every level. As Sissy, Danielle Kassarate gives a searing central performance, physically agile and expressive being emotionally raw as she explores a panoply of feelings and actions; some known, only to be revisited again and again, some unfamiliar – yet not, some echoing something that went before. In all Kassarate dives in without compromise and takes us on a journey that draws us in completely to her tattered life without sorrow because Sissy, she of many parts, can play the bereft mother, the lonely, the seducer, the abandoned or the feisty independent. She can be tender and savage, or sassy, then be a tease or trickster or simply vacant.
Gerrard Martin, the Movement Director fuses the expressive with the everyday, merging mundane actions with mime, dance and gesture creating a sense of the extraordinary in the ordinary. But it is Kassarate who excels in every detail from the opening section where she prepares for something (or nothing) listening to her tunes, stretching, gliding, wriggling, and eying ,communicating to us both the private and public feeling of her joy, humour and disappointment both past present. Sissy is powerful but unsettled and of course, unsettling.
Her daughter arrives, drops in, and is played by Donna Banya with a sense of teenage gauche, wanting and needing yet resisting and conflicted. Over the course of the visit both women hack at their desires for love, understanding and recognition – often against a brilliant soundscape (designed by Xana) which both reveals their inner thoughts and brings out their sense of urban existence along with their sense of fun and unity. Lyrics punch the air with meaning from ‘smooth operator’ to’ purple rain’ to ‘every time we say goodbye’, each sound or lyric provides a rich tapestry that says the things we can’t or won’t say. This is not about things in books but in tunes – big tunes for big lives.
Malakaï Sargeant directs the piece boldly, with vision and imagination, creating a familiar world in an unfamiliar way. His direction draws us into the challenges faced by our protagonists with a razor sharp eye for detail ,as he moves us from the simple to the grand in the blink of an eye.
…cake is part of a trilogy by Babirye Bukilwa and in this stand alone production we are treated to language that is poetical in its imagination, yet equally pedestrian in its construction. The imagery is powerful, not simply because of recognisable lyrics or tunes but for the crafted way she can take a word or image and spin it, like the flowers in vases, ‘corpses’ – a beauty around them in decay. The very title of course echoes the idiom of ‘cant have your cake and eat it too’ where we are presented with the challenge of once you’ve eaten the cake it’s gone! This dichotomy is put under the lens, can I be your mother and your friend, can I bring you beauty and kill the thing you love? Pain and loss and love fuse. Her writing challenges as pronouns switch, but hanging on to and understanding characters and their roles is, of course, part of it all. Later in the play their monologues posses language you might think unusual for the characters but again our expectations are challenged. Even with notion of sorrow, of feeling sorry, Bukilwa asks us to reconsider this exchange in connection to how we use language and feelings. The play refers to not talking how you write – here learning, identity and class are explored as her characters would not write how they talk, subsequently showing us that learning does not only come from books and that the reserves with in us all may yet surprise us.
Her writing glows, her characters flash and the whole production is ablaze with ideas and talent. Let it light up your summer night and catch a performance at the Theatre Peckham running until the 7Th August – tickets available from: theatrepeckham.co.uk
Sissy – Danielle Kassarate
Eshe – Donna Banya
Producer – Sarudzayi Marufu
Director – Malakaï Sargeant
Set and Costume Designer – Debbie Duru
Writer – Babirye Bukilwa
Sound Designer – Xana
Vocal Coach – Eleanor Manners
Stage Manager – Phyllys Egharevba
Movement Director – Gerrard Martin
Lighting Designer – Luke Goodlitt
Associate Designer – Rema Kahsay
Scent Designer – Ezra