It’s a muggy evening in late April. Two electric fans are doing their best to cool things down, as a woman dances around her apartment, music getting louder and louder. Something, we can tell, is about to happen. This is the world of ...cake, a new play from Bruntwood Prize nominee babirye bukilwa performed at London’s Theatre Peckham. It is at times funny but often grotesque, bukilwa’s lyrical script telling the story of two Black queer women and their deeply interwoven trauma.
At the centre is Sissy (Danielle Kassarate), who greets the audience in a dressing gown, silk headscarf and huge gold hoops. She has a glass of wine in one hand and a spliff in the other; Lenny Kravitz and Sade (her favourite) are blaring from the record player. Her home shows signs of previous care, but is now in a state of distress. Bin bags of rubbish are strewn across the floor, mouthwash next to alcohol in the kitchen. Even the flowers adorning nearly every surface are wilting.
Sissy’s bubble is burst by the entry of 16-year-old Eshe (War of the Worlds’ Donna Banya), whose incessant knocking can’t be drowned out by the music. Eshe hasn’t been round for a while, we learn, and it’s initially easy to guess why. Where the teenager is quiet and subdued, if a little standoffish, Sissy cartwheels back and forth between intense anger and joy, with Kassarate’s performance never slipping into caricature. “It’s like I’m on this train with you,” Eshe explains. “There’s a different you in every carriage… and the speed of the train depends on the you in the carriage. I never know what you will be.”
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