Sleepova, Bush Theatre, 2023
Photo: Helen Murray
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended


‘Sleepova’ review

4 out of 5 stars

Bukky Bakray makes a tremendous stage debut in Matilda Feyiṣayọ Ibini’s exuberant drama about four Black teenage best friends


Time Out says

Matilda Feyiṣayọ Ibini’s new play feels rough, juddery and full of life. The Jade Lewis-directed coming-of-age drama about four Black female friends in the months around their GCSEs is absolutely not what you’d call slick, and the relative inexperience of its four young actors – three of whom are making their stage debuts – is often felt in moments of ropey projection. 

And it’s all to the good: ‘Sleepova’ has a joyously all-over-the-shop energy, its imperfections and overexcitement perfectly matching the manic pace of the adolescence it’s depicting.

To be clear, if the quartet of actors may lack a bit of polish, they absolutely make the play. There’s zestful but chronically ill Shan (Aliyah Odoffin), devout Catholic goody two-shoes Elle (Shayde Sinclair), eccentric, Yoruba heritage-embracing Funmi (Bukky Bakray) and rich-bitch lesbian Rey (Amber Grappy). Ibini’s writing is tender, empathetic and often laugh-out-loud funny, but in theory the four characters teeter on the brink of being teen archetypes. And yet the actors have such abundant chemistry you’d assume they’d all been mates for life. Their raw, buzzing energy torches off any Dawson’s Creekiness that may occasionally creep into the writing.

The biggest name here is Bakray: this might be her first time on a stage, but she’s been a hot film property ever since her debut in 2019’s ‘Rocks’. She is brilliant fun as Funmi, the unknowable wildcard of the group who effortlessly keeps her cool throughout the quartet’s adventures, preferring an ironically tossed-off Yoruba proverb to losing her shit. She is brilliantly weird, 16 going on 80, the sort of DGAF pal you wished you’d had in your corner at that age.

Sinclair is winning as Elle, smoothly spoken but borderline brainwashed by religion; there’s the constant, frustrating feel that she’d be the coolest of the bunch if she could break her conditioning. Grappy hams it up a treat as the spoiled Rey, who has never got over her mum’s early death. And Odoffin is good as Shan, the serious girl of the group who wishes she wasn’t – constantly brought to earth by the long hospital stays brought on by her sickle cell disease or frequent reminders that her friends are better off and more academically successful.

And they do of course have more in common than simply really liking each other, though that’s a good start for a friendship. There’s some sort of family trauma in all their backgrounds, usually the death or absence of a parent. Though they rarely talk about it in depth, there’s a sense that tragedy and loss is the invisible bond between them. And of course, they’re all Black: it’s not something they over-analyse, and their backgrounds are pretty different, but in most cases they are again bonded by a complicated desire to both please and defy their first-generation-immigrant parents. In the play’s most stinging moment, one of the characters cuts down the gobby Rey by telling her that she doesn’t understand them because she was raised by white parents; in a poignant moment, Shan seems to feel she needs to go out with white people because she wants to reduce the chance of passing on her sickle cell disease to her extremely hypothetical kids.

Starting at a birthday sleepover at Shan’s in the autumn of 2017, and ending with the girls seeing out 2018 together, the story is a slice of life that sees each of the group confronted by their own crisis. But it’s not really about the plot but the ride: they’re just incredibly fun characters to spend time with, and Lewis’s joltingly energetic production, pepped-up by pop songs and endearingly un-slick dance routines.

I’m sure there are layers that I’ve missed here: I’ve clearly never been a young Black woman, and when I was their age boys did not do ‘sleepovers’ (we ‘stayed at friends’ houses’). But I know a good time when I see one, and ‘Sleepova’ surely is that.


£12-£20, £15 concs. Runs 2hr 20min
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