In 1996-7, Jade Theatre Company's Grace examined the chiming of one woman's biological clock as she turned 30 without having realised her ambitions and dreams. It was a creation of glorious humour, exquisite poignancy, endless invention and a heart as big as a continent, that long served for many of us as a benchmark of what fringe and touring theatre could be. The company's new presentation Cake comes within an ace of being every bit as magical as the earlier show.
Performer Victoria Worsley and writer Sarah Woods have moved on in life, and so Cake (now at BAC as part of a national tour) addresses a slightly different demographic. It's about motherhood. In a set that appears to be a fully practical kitchen, Worsley's character chattily tries to demonstrate how to make a variety of cakes, whilst fending off or falling prey to a constant stream of distractions from her offspring. The twist is that this brood consists of a large female doll called John and a number of spoons, ladles and spatulas, all animated (and John also voiced) by a couple of puppeteers.
Visually, it's deliciously bizarre, as Worsley dives into the sink to rescue and resuscitate a wooden cooking spoon, and a whole bunch of utensils appear to suckle at her breasts. But the relationships shown are instantly recognisable as those of mother and children in all their various hues: the childish enthusiasms, the attention-seeking and the awkward questioning – John is quite the little philosopher in his interrogations on the nature of love. Mum shows immense but finite reserves of patience, and intersperses her culinary observations with remarks suggesting how little of her life is her own but also passionately reaffirming her utter devotion to her children. We come to realise that baking is her way of finding a space within the domestic routine where she can indulge herself, even while claiming that she's toiling for the enjoyment of the whole family... a claim with only partial justification.
All the complexity of such a bond communicates itself as flour, eggs and sugar fly around the set, but so, even more, does the love. Nobody who has ever been either a parent or a child could help being enraptured by it.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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