Baby Cake opens with a plate of lollies and a casual conversation, and ends with a sponge cake and a speech. A playful collage of camp, conversational, musical, and poetic, it is a personal exploration of the choice whether or not to have a child.
Baby Cake humorously compares and contrasts the lives and experiences of performer/creators Kerensa Diball and Yuhui Ng-Rodrigues, discussing different perspectives they have encountered and experienced in regard to motherhood and its intersections with class and race. They talk about their relationships with their mothers. They talk about the struggles faced by friends. They talk about fertility. Diball explores the internal and external pressures put on women to reproduce. Ng-Rodrigues explores the challenges and fears she faces in having a young child.
Ng-Rodriguez and Diball each give a monologue relating their respective ‘hates’ – things like overprotective mothers, Subarus, the judgement they feel from other people, and the expectations they put on themselves. These monologues are the most arresting moments of the piece in their honesty and humour, Ng-Rodriguez with her intimate poetry and Diball, as a striking figure in the window, holding her words on giant cards as she looks off into the distance.
Ng-Rodriguez’s child, Mori, is on stage for the whole show, free to interact with the performers as he chooses, running across the performance space, grinning happily, waving at the audience, and eating blueberries. It unfolds that when Ng-Rodriguez was new to motherhood, she decided to put a halt on her artistic career, and so to see her returning to her practise with her child as part of the show is incredibly moving and beautiful to watch. Incorporating Mori is the most delightful choice the show makes, injecting an element of unpredictability, vitality and excitement that is often otherwise lacking. And in fact, the energy and life Mori brings to the performance at times highlights the staged and over performed quality present in other moments.
Important in the piece is the tension between a desire to maintain an authentic and actualised sense of self and the changes that come upon the body as part of pregnancy, aging, and illness. Design, by the creators and Sophia Burns, seeks to explore this tension between a fun exterior and the often grotesque realities of the body. Fleshy lumps and flaps are littered throughout the space (including on the plates of offered food), while bright contrasting colours are used in costuming. This infiltration of the gross into the playful has exciting potential, though could be activated more by the performers, or could be integrated more into the content of the show.
Other elements such as the periodic offering of kids’ party style food to the audience, and moments of song accompanied by live musician Roman Tucker also have exciting potential, but often lack transparent justification or dramaturgical rigour. Diball and Ng-Rodriguez pull together a huge variety of images and ideas in 60 minutes and while I enjoyed the quirky franticness of this, as an audience member I wanted to see a more focused and in depth exploration of the ideas, processes and framings of the piece.
Baby Cake creates a wholesome, playful space to explore the extremely fraught decisions and realities around fertility, motherhood, and being a woman without children. It’s satire of contemporary left-wing middle-class ideas of feminism and family is often shockingly funny and the way the way it is structured feels satisfying. Beautiful Mori is a light and a joy, and the way Ng-Rodriguez as well as Diball interact with him on stage is touching to watch. While some elements feel staged or underdeveloped, Baby Cake is a lively and colourful exploration of motherhood: as a cultural idea and as an actuality.