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THEATRE ...cake, Theatre Peckham London

Riveting entanglements of strong but wounded queer black women

IT’S April 2005, a muggy evening which feels more like summer. Several fans whir in the background as Sissy (Danielle Kassarate) dances in her flat, smoking what appears to be a spliff while holding a dying flower.

It’s the perfect setting for babirya bukilwa’s new play ...cake, a raw and intense roller coaster of a drama exploring the complex relationship between a mother and a daughter.

Sissy appears to be happy dancing and gliding around her room. Laughing to herself, drinking, smoking, looking quite comfortable in her place, her space, her skin. She’s got good taste in music — Sade! — and she’s funny and cool. And we warm to her.

But things begin to turn sour when 16-year-old Eshe turns up. They are, it’s confirmed later, mother and daughter but it's not clear straight away what their the relationship is.

Eshe, panicked, uncomfortable and bedraggled, is much younger than Sissy so we presume she’s her daughter. We are led to believe that perhaps she is in fact an ex-lover — much younger and much more responsible — as their relationship seems far too unconventional to be that of  mother and daughter.

Set designer Debbie Dura has created a stage so naturalistic it’s as if we’re in in Sissy’s living room, eavesdropping on their conversation and, as the night wears on, wine is drunk, cigarettes are smoked and records play out while we watch this fractious relationship unravel in real time.

It’s an intense 90 minutes, hard to watch at times, but even harder to look away. Kassarate — one of the four behind Mawa, an all-black, all-women Shakespearean theatre company — is outstanding as the complex and abusive Sissy.

Completely natural, she captivates the audience: we laugh and cry with her, we’re scared of her and then just feel sorry for her.

And Donna Banya is equally impressive in the difficult role of Eshe, which she handles with ease.

At 90 minutes long without an interval, it’s an intense watch. But, sad and fractious, it’s an important drama in spotlighting working-class social, racial and queer struggles which are so ingrained today.

A must-see.

Runs until August 7, box office: theatrepeckham.co.uk

INDIE PURCELL

 

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