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Marble Cake (Susan Elkin reviews)

Marble Cake

Olivia Penhallow & Nathaniel Allen

Bridge House Theatre

Star rating 3

Co-written by the two actors who perform it, this ambitious play explores mixed race heritage, identity, male mental health and abandonment: quite a lot for a 65 minute piece

Keisha (Olivia Penhallow) had come “home” from Birmingham where she has a successful career, to visit her brother and mother in South East London. The family was abandoned by their Nigerian father when Kumi (Nathaniel Allen) was ten and their Irish mother is now ill. Gradually we learn that Keisha doesn’t often visit and there is misunderstanding and tension interspersed with sibling bonding including a rather nice dance sequence.

The play asks a lot of questions, some of which I struggle with because I’m a white woman and it’s outside my experience. Does a “white passing” person like Kumi really struggle because some regard him as not black enough and others as not white enough? Does someone like Keisha really yearn to visit her father’s village in Nigeria to find her heritage and feel resentful that no one taught her how to cook Nigerian food or to manage her hair? I’m left thinking of Scout’s observation in To Kill A Mockingbird that “Folks are just folks”, which has become my motto in life, but sadly it doesn’t hold for everyone and this play is a salutary reminder of that.

Issues of isolation and underachievement are explored too. Kumi is clearly bright but he works as a Tesco delivery driver, obviously isn’t going to finish his novel and is drinking. He’s also been in denial for months about his mother’s illness. At one point he observes that everyone in his life has deserted him: his father, his sister, his girl friend and now his mother is dying. Of course the play can offer no solutions or answers. It simply presents the issues – in a sensitive and thoughtful way.

Penhallow and Allen work deftly together. They are both strong naturalistic actors and we believe in their characters. The writing is decent too although as Penhallow tells the audience at the end, this is a play in development so it will, one hopes, continue to evolve.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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