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…cake at Theatre Peckham | Review

Tapping into Theatre Peckham’s remit to produce work that showcases emerging writers and performances that resonate social realism whilst illuminating local emerging talent, bukilwa’s work is a deep dive into a fractured mother-daughter relationship where mental health and disassociation is rife.

...Cake - Photo credit Seye Isikalu.
…Cake – Photo credit Seye Isikalu.

… cake is a kitchen sink drama for the 21st century; Set in South London in the noughties; bukilwa has created their work with an Afrocentric, queer lens, however, there are many universal truths and sadness to this raw, uncompromising piece. For me, the play sits comfortably with plays by Albee, Delanghy, Mamet, and Osborne as a record of social struggle for the working classes in ‘modern time’.

…cake is premiering at the Theatre Peckham; part of a trilogy penned by babirye bukilwa, …cake is the prequel to their acclaimed play …blackbird hour, which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Playwriting, The Bruntwood Prize and Alfred Fagon Award.

When the audience enters the performance space, Danielle Kassarate, Sissy, is already on the stage: The radio is on, and what we initially perceive as a happy woman enjoying her home life; red wine, cigarettes, a spliff in hand dancing unapologetically in her safe space, is a stark contrast to the rest of the stage where we see dead flowers, piles of washing up, overflowing rubbish bins and a scattering of records and empty baskets covering the floor. As an audience, we enjoy the pre-show playlist (also available as a download) and we laugh along with our protagonist. We recognise tunes including Erykah Badu, we recognise Sissy. We like her! We recognise this ritual, we’ve all done it, we are comfortable.

This calm, fun exposition is instantly usurped with the arrival of Eshe, skilfully played by Donna Banya. Eshe has come to visit Sissy after school. This is when the play turns from a fun, relaxed evening into a rollercoaster of emotions with raw, painful vitriol through fast and sharp exchanges that are painful to watch and excellently executed. A dark, twisted psychological drama unwinds before us and it’s not easy to watch

Over the next 90 minutes, we witness the broken relationship between Eshe and Sissy. Their story is upsetting and relentless. We see unconditional love being tested as a result of mental health, self-hatred, and gaslighting. Kassarate and Banya deliver raw, emotional, soul-felt performances, we don’t doubt the pain or Sissy and Eshe’s love for each other at any stage, although as an audience member my heart cried for intervention for them both.

Banya and Kassarate’s on-stage chemistry is on-point. It’s hard to hold an audience for 90 mins when there are large periods of silence on stage, or a character is performing a lengthy monologue, however, these two performers have nailed it. We want to see more, we want to save our protagonists, and we want to climb onto the set and give them a hug and tell them it is okay.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers so am purposely avoiding sharing scenes with you, however, I can say that the staging is great, the sound effects and lighting work well to enhance the on-stage action. The production team has incorporated some physical sound and visual effects that sign-post the inner thoughts and demons that our characters are experiencing, these really enhance the drama and drives their story forward. [watch out for the train scene and the water-fall]

The piece is hard to watch, there were points in the play where I wanted to look away and shout “no” at the characters, but by no means should this mean we should avoid it. These are the plays that we must see, we must acknowledge and we must champion. After the production, I wanted to take time to digest what I’d experienced, to refocus and process the piece. This rarely happens after a show for me, so well done bukilwa, I’m looking forward to your next installment of the trilogy. By the end of the piece I understood the title …cake and am keen to view …blackbird hour and understand what the stands for.

4 stars

Review by Faye Stockley

How do queer, Black femmes achieve legitimacy when their soil is hostile?
What happens to their roots?
Who deserves solace on a sinking island where performativity is currency?

…cake, a psychological drama that unapologetically queers the existing complexities of family, roots and belonging; where power and duty dance in equal measure.

Written by Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2020 finalist, actor and poet babirye bukilwa, …cake forms part of a trilogy of plays and is a prequel to bukilwa’s acclaimed …blackbird hour (also shortlisted for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2019 and Alfred Fagon Award 2020). A first for the venue, this piece of new writing will be produced in-house, with the drama premiering as a fully staged production here at Theatre Peckham across 4 weeks from the 13 July until 7 August.


  • Faye Stockley

    Faye read Theatre & Performance at The University of Warwick; she went on to work as a stage manager in London and Edinburgh. She had a year's stint on-board the MV Island Escape as a Social Host and Compere and now works full time as a Recruitment Manager for the broadcast, entertainment and media sectors.

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