Cake and Congo

Theatre, Drama
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 (© Johnny Ong)
© Johnny Ong
 (© Johnny Ong)
© Johnny Ong
 (© Johnny Ong)
© Johnny Ong
 (© Johnny Ong)
© Johnny Ong
 (© Johnny Ong)
© Johnny Ong
 (© Johnny Ong)
© Johnny Ong
 (© Johnny Ong)
© Johnny Ong
 (© Johnny Ong)
© Johnny Ong

Opening just after a twerking Miley Cyrus gyrating against a middle-aged man has reignited the debate of female self-empowerment versus exploitation, this new play feels well timed in terms of the questions it raises.

Amba, brought by her father from the Democratic Republic of Congo to London as a child, loves to dance. But she’s torn between studying it at university and dancing at a local strip bar to make enough money for her and the aunt she now lives with to escape relentless poverty.

Writer and director Laura McCluskey interviewed lap dancers and their families about their experiences, resulting in this impassioned show – performed by an all-female cast – which takes a wide-ranging look at sex, abuse and cultural identity, as well as immigrant hardship.

This is a lot to cover in just over an hour and McCluskey sometimes hurries. Amba’s strip-bar friend Kelly comes across as a collation of viewpoints rather than a person; although her matter-of-fact attitude to her job is another layer to the play’s refreshingly complex world.

Akiya Henry is fantastic as Amba, imbuing her with a spiky vulnerability that rings absolutely true. A powerful sequence of dances charts her character’s distressing descent from the liberation of rhythm to dead-eyed titillation.

Faith Edwards’ aunt Leonie, a Congolese refugee, is protective of her niece but relishes the freedom money brings, challenging her friend Eleanor’s sanctimony when she starts buying rather than making her own cakes.

This presentation of other perspectives is the play's greatest strength. Jade Williams ’s Eleanor, the traumatised survivor of a sexual assault, may be right to condemn Amba’s occupation but McCluskey refuses straightforward moral judgements.

By Tom Wicker


Event phone: 020 7978 7040
Event website:

Average User Rating

3.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:8
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:4
1 person listening

Great performances from all actors, very cleverly done, so powerful.

I can't believe Paul Robinson has let this go on, he seems to normally have tight control of the venue's content. Such a shame.

Can I give less than one star? The only people in the audience who enjoyed it were clearly friends and family.

Saw this on Sunday. Not only interesting subject matter but packed with really good dance from hip-hop to ballet to street. Good to see some strong black female roles too.

I really understood Amba and what she was going through. The play was too short. I wanted to know more about the characters. I thought the dance was amazing. I also really liked Kelly. The end was really shocking - I thought the actress who played Amba was really brave.

Lovin the hip hop moves and the play itself was so pacey. Best I've seen this year. Hats off...

Just seen this play. So moving and thought provoking. Akiya Henry's performance brought tears to my eyes; her ability to convey a sense of desperation to succeed, yet she lose her sense of self, was remarkable. The play also brought laughter! Loved the dancing too. I disagree that Laura McCluskey is against lap dancing per se as the underlying meaning is not judgemental, but highlights the hard facts of survival, reality and choice.

Fabulous play and Akiya Henry as Amba is fantastic. I urge you to go see it.

I felt the play was massively under-developed and the characters seemed really one dimensional. It was clear the writer was against lap dancing and the like (as am I, as it happens) but didn't have any persuasive arguments as to why it was wrong. Some good performances but very disappointing in general.