Sleepova at Bush Theatre
As part of the new writing initiative at the Bush Theatre, Sleepova, written by Matilda Feyiṣayọ Ibini, is a coming-of-age narrative that follows four young Black girls through the tail end of secondary school and the challenges they face. Directed by Jade Lewis, the play covers themes of death, faith, illness, consent and sexuality – quite heavy subjects that are beautifully interwoven with nostalgic happenstance that many in the audience can relate to from their own formative years.
The show begins slowly and, though the pacing throughout can perhaps be seen as laborious (at times so drawn-out that it becomes unbearable), this can be forgiven as an allegory for the illness experienced by Shan (Aliyah Odoffin), whose sickle cell disease is one of the focal points in the story. Similarly, her character starts as a grating and often seemingly apathetic caricature, but on the revelation of her illness, the affections of the audience are won over with the understanding that this is symptomatic of the condition.
The dynamic of the four girls on stage is often reminiscent of a 90s sitcom, where each character is an archetypal nod to the people one meets in their teenage years. The way that Rey (Amber Grappy) often teases her friends to hide her insecurities – a “fake it till you make it” approach, if you will – is perfectly juxtaposed with the almost entirely silent Funmi (Bukky Bakray), who is a woman of few but powerful words, whether it be the occasional witty quip or a profound sentence. Each character’s vital part in balancing the dynamic of the group is testament to the fantastic intricacy of the writing.
Funmi is often the epitome of the Black home experience, reminding many in the audience of what it is like to be raised in a Black household. However, as stereotypes go, this is a welcome depiction as it carefully treads the line between hilarious and truthful, allowing dignity where mockery may otherwise take its place. This is yet more evidence of the quality of the writing and also of Bukky Bakray’s ability as an actress.
At times the story feels underdeveloped and as a result more like a force-feeding of a social issue, in contrast with other works on the subject that have managed to find the balance between cautionary tale and entertainment. For example, the story arc of Elle (Shayde Sinclair) discovering that her sexuality does not match her religious ideals is somewhat predictable, and her eventually being sent to a Christian conversion camp feels heavily laden and somewhat rushed. It would have been great to see this handled with the care and consideration given to the other moral issues in the play, with boldness and courage, rather than haphazardly.
Nonetheless, overall, this show is a must-see for everyone and anyone, no matter their race or background. It draws upon themes that all have experienced, either first-hand or through a loved one – themes that provide catharsis for those watching. And the viewer is almost guaranteed to leave with a renewed strength to go and live every day in complete fullness, no matter the obstacles they face.
Sleepova is at Bush Theatre from 10th March until 8th April 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.