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Review – SUDS Presents: Porn.Cake

SUDS' final summer show for 2020 tackled sex, innocence, growing old, cake, and everything in between.

I’m not an artful piece of fiction / I’m human with human contradiction

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer

Porn.Cake, if you couldn’t tell by the title (and the fantastic chalk art by Grace Anderson), situates the audience before the lives of two couples: Bella and Bill (Lali Gill and Sam Fraser), and Annie and Ant (Ruby Blinkhorn and Felix Faber) who find themselves aging without grace or any consolation from those around them. First time director Serena Dalton navigates the production deftly through the realities of growing old, the loss of love, and how cake is sometimes just cake.

Charlie Breene’s set design utilised the Cellar Theatre well, showing a carefully planned consideration of space. Two dinner tables (tablecloths shockingly absent!) and a mantelpiece with various props create a setting decorated enough to feel lived-in while still remaining universal enough to convincingly represent the separate homes of both couples, who share the stage with each-other for most of the play. Unless one of the characters decides to begin monologuing. 

The monologues in question are what allow the play to truly stand out. Impressively acted, each character reveals a sharp and brief glimpse into their lives. For only a few minutes we see them on their own terms, warts and all. We see them as human, as hurting, as a mess of hypocrisy, insecurity, uncertainty, and nostalgia all bundled up as tightly as a Gordian Knot.

All of the characters – the road-raging naturopath, the self-proclaimed “young” man pushing forty, the olive-hater condensing his marital problems into a single one-sided conversation about olives, and the girl who swears she saw a fairy – are fractured, multi-faceted, beyond their youth, and entirely incapable of expressing any of this to their partners. 

The depth of the production owes a great deal to these confessionals, which allow the  actors to present their characters at their most fleshed out as they plead their case to the audience. They know they’re not innocent, but who else will listen? Lali Gill deserves a special mention for her performance in the opening scene, skilfully setting the right tone and pace that was maintained through the play’s entirety by the whole of the talented cast.

In a play heavily reliant on repetition it’s easy for things to slow down or become grating to watch as dialogue and actions come back through the play like a broken record, but Porn.Cake defies this, each recurrent line or motion progressing the plot further. Sophie Morrissey’s skill with lighting compliments and raises every scene – be it a tense marital spat or a cake-fuelled sex scene.

The only points where the play seemed  to lag were largely a result of the script itself. Certain bits of dialogue came  off as too on-the-nose, and the pacing was occasionally undercut by a misplaced joke, but these lapses are rare and not the fault of the actors or director. 

Serena Dalton and her cast manage to walk the difficult tightrope that is combining comedy and drama, with almost every scene eliciting waves of laughter from the audience. And then suddenly the tone changes, and the audience falls silent, hanging on every word. At these points of great heights and depressing lows, every member of the cast shone, oftentimes pairing pity with humour to great effect. Ruby Blinkhorn was notably adept at balancing these two near-opposites.

Porn.Cake accomplishes an impressive performance that portrays the reality of love in the time of clicking beetles, and the many years after. Bringing together disparate themes such as affection  and apathy, age and youth, repetition and second guessing,, and feeling alone at the dinner table while in your partner’s company, Porn.Cake confidently explores what happens behind closed doors and the thoughts that escape between gritted teeth. In the end, what’s left is a stage covered in cake and unspoken fears. Two couples saying nothing and meaning everything.