By: Helena Northmore, TRP Reviewer
How to describe Cake? Certainly, it’s a musical, but the balletic dancing combined with high energy street dance make this one act play fresh and unusual. Entering the auditorium feels like stepping back into low life Paris in the 1700’s; mist shrouds the stage and seating area, and the low red lighting gives a sinister glow to the minimal props. It feels as if something exciting is waiting to happen.
Off stage, Marie Antoinette opens the show by informing the audience that this is ‘all about ME’; an egotistical self-obsessed statement that sets the whole tone of the play. The plot is based on the growing chasm in Paris between the haves and the have nots, the powerful and the powerless, and the tension that subsequently explodes into revolution. The two ends of the social spectrum are embodied in the aristocrat Marie Antoinette and Jeanne a woman from the working classes who is on fire with desire to change and bring down the system.
Marie Antoinette, played by Zizi Strallen, is gloriously narcissistic and shallow; think Marilyn Monroe meets Lady Gaga. In her opening number she describes her beauty, wealth and most of all her ‘hotness’ in a breathy seductive voice with dance moves to match. Her counterpart Jeanne is the exact opposite. Fierce and passionate, she cares deeply about the injustices around her and her every move demonstrates her strength of body and mind. Jeanne played by Renee Lamb has a wonderfully strong voice and a charismatic quality to her dancing. Both characters are backed by a small ensemble whose fluidity of movement and ‘street cred’ appearance are immensely watchable.
The plot unfolds with Jeanne working her way into the palace and meeting Marie Antoinette by chance in the royal lavatories. The humour in this scene is well played and leads to Jeanne smuggling Marie Antoinette out of the palace so she can experience ‘real life’ in Paris. After a night of self-discovery in on one of Paris’ low life nightclubs there is a change in Marie Antoinette and her understanding of life.
At this stage the play becomes a little convoluted. Marie Antoinette together with a gullible and licentious Cardinal Rohan is implicated in a plot to obtain diamonds illegally resulting in a very public court case. Unfortunately, the last section of the play was quite hard to follow and for me the final outcome was far from clear. I was expecting the guillotine to appear but saw nothing of the sort. Was this a problem? In many ways no, and it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the play but is perhaps surprising given Marie Antoinette’s fate is so well known…
The French revolution is an interesting basis for a play. There were political overtones that resonated with much in today’s society, but the tone was light and subtle. The lasting impression is the raw energy of the dancing and the charismatic performances by the two main actors. It is a self-assured production which comfortably fills the intimate stage of The Drum theatre and is definitely worth seeing.