It’s rare that I get to watch a play that, on paper, has been written from such a similar lived experience as my own. …cake is described as a psychological drama that asks if the cycle of generational trauma can ever be broken as well as positing if queer, black femmes can ever find love and belonging in a hostile climate. As a queer, black most often femme-identifying person myself, I am intrigued by how these questions might be explored and ultimately answered.
It is wonderful to be amongst such an abundance of queer people of colour for whom this play speaks more directly to. …cake forms part of a trilogy of plays by actor, poet and playwright babirye bukilwa and is the prequel to the acclaimed play …blackbird hour. In addition, the performance tonight it directed by the venue’s very own Associate Director, malakaï sargeant. So, with such a creative team, this is a story told through a firmly queer POC gaze… needless to say, I’m excited, and my expectations are high.
It is wonderful to be amongst such an abundance of queer people of colour for whom this play speaks more directly to
This is my first time in the Theatre Peckham, and while it is a fantastic and comfortable space with good energy and equally great views from every row, I do struggle to hear all of the peripheral sound which I’m sure intends to provide more of the atmosphere than I get throughout. This is a shame, because sound is important for me personally in any theatre experience. It’s the acoustics of the space though, and not the fantastic design from Sound Designer Xana and Associate Sound Designer Kayode Gomez.
This is more evidenced by the core soundtrack choices that set the scene, the climate, and to a larger extent the protagonists’ headspace. Debbie Duru’s wonderfully-designed but very beige set and costuming bolsters that this is the late 90s. Sade then Erykah Badu on the record player, LPs on the shelf bearing the likes of Eric Benet. Fresh and dead flowers, washing up in the sink. Empty bottles of alcohol.
There are only two actors in this one-scene play – Danielle Kassarate’s Sissy, a 40-something woman who we see in the opening dancing drunkenly around her London flat; and Donna Banya’s Eshe, a 16-year old who we meet a good 20 minutes in. Both actors play their parts brilliantly, delivering the sometimes awkwardly stunted dialogue with the variety of emotions and intensity needed. The relationship between the two isn’t immediately clear, it is squeezed out throughout the play, which tonally opens with what one might assume is slapstick comedy but quickly as an audience we stop laughing. This is not funny, this is a complex, sad, joyful mixture of everything moment in their lives weighted by so much history and connectedness, or lack thereof.
There are some smashing insights, delivered as blistering one-liners that critique society and the conventional masses such as “… if they don’t understand it, maybe it’s not theirs” as Sissy reprimands Eshe for her self-correcting a sentence she’s uttered. My favourite is “They see you as a woman in a school uniform”; again, Sissy to Eshe, which speaks to the different rules black girls are judged by, an appropriate unspoken hanging comparison that many in the audience murmured their understanding of.
The conclusion to the questions posed and explored throughout the 90-minute dance that is Sissy and Eshe’s relationship is not satisfying to me – because the answer is not at all clear. It was never going to be, and never will be. As much as this is a play ‘for me’ it’s perhaps in that style of play that doesn’t appeal to me – even as a conceptual creative myself, it’s perhaps too abstract. Yes, it’s an honest and intense ride, but I need more of a conclusion and if not, a clearer narrative than …cake is able to give me.