Bush Theatre, London, until Apr 8
The Bush Theatre had a good run in 2022 with Waleed Akhtar’s The P Word, The House of Ife with Michael Workeye and Nikhil Parmar’s Invisible, but then
lost its mojo. Sleepova is a partial return to form, but that has less to do with
Matilda Feyiṣayọ Ibini’s writing than a strong ensemble cast triumphing above all odds.
It kicks off in the autumn of 2017, when a group of black teenage girls bond during a sleepover after a 16th birthday party, and then, after each girl has to confront their own challenges, they finally see out 2018 together and it all ends as happily ever after as it can.
It’s one of those free-flowing, slice-of-life dramas that, with a no-frills staging, places a vast amount of pressure on the individual actors to make something of their parts. Happily, there’s an impressive stage debut from Shayde Sinclair as the deeply religious Elle, trying to hold true to her beliefs and values in a wicked world, and the actress more than holds her own against Bukky Bakray, best known for the film Rocks and presumably meant
to be the show’s star as a loud-mouthed character of Yoruba heritage.
The quartet is completed by Aliyah Odoffin and Amber Grappy and they all manage to achieve on the stage the kind of easy familiarity that comes only with real friendships that endure through good times and bad.
The writing is true to life in that the words haven’t really been organised into the sort of order required of a dramatic play and so it occasionally sags a bit and feels like eavesdropping on private conversations in which I often had no great interest. Still, top marks to the director Jade Lewis and the actors for keeping us awake during this sleepova.