Sophie is having a party deep in the basement of the Camden People’s Theatre. It’s an appropriate setting for a bash that mixes plates of Party Rings with post-apocalyptic kitsch, and brings a sickly sweet twist to the Futureshock festival. How much you enjoy proceedings will depend on your tolerance for tea and whimsy, but if you can take the odd pink wafer and round of pass the parcel with your theatre, there are moments of joy to be found amidst the party poppers.
Rhyannon Styles plays creepy-cute as party-girl Sophie, towering over the makeshift marquee with its scattered cushions and play-fort made of books. The majority of the action concerns Sophie’s aborted attempts to induce some jollity in her handful of guests, with games to play and a jovial getting-to-know-you atmosphere. It’s reminiscent of Belt Up’s The Boy James, though if anything there is even less substance to this narrative, with Sophie hinting at devastation outside and disappointment in her past, revealing herself as a kind of marshmallow Miss Havisham packing some serious issues with Angel Delight.
There are fragments of surprising tenderness, such as the image of Styles curling up into her father’s jacket, or cheating dreadfully at the eat-a-chocolate-bar-blindfolded game, and Styles is at her strongest when jollying the party along. The plot’s surprises are a little too obvious, however, the twists occurring not so much in the tail but slap bang in the middle. Things go altogether too far in the conclusion, where the subtext practically tantrums its way into the spotlight. Styles asks us to consider what we have to be grateful for, what it is that matters to us, and while it’s an admirable sentiment it’s also rather obvious. In a season of work that looks to the future, Angel Cake is altogether too concerned with the minutiae of a culturally constructed childhood.
It’s a far stronger piece visually than intellectually, with Christopher Nairne’s lighting contributing to a fuzzy, biscuit-fuelled haze inside Ele Slade’s cosy set, and Styles is a winning hostess. If the piece continues to develop it would do well to perform a deeper interrogation of the ideas that drive it, whether it has something to say about the adult condition, about loss and regret, or whether it’s simply a character study of a disturbed individual who’s taken some childhood social rejection rather hard. It’s a vital question, and not one which the occasional gestures to universality are sufficient to answer.
Sophie’s story is a little disturbing, but it’s not the end of the world. Which is a problem, really.