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Sleepova Review: An ode to sisterhood, summer 2016 & self discovery

In the safety and comfort of their bedroom walls four best friends make plans to take over the world and tackle any obstacle that life throws at them.

'Sleepova' by Matilda Feyiṣayọ Ibini is a safe space for childlike dreams, voicing the pains of girlhood and the mindless freedom that comes with it. The play follows the sisterhood of 4 Black girls found by sisterhood as they navigate all the curve balls that life throws at them.

Once the stage lights were dimmed we were given a short burst intro into the four main characters, who carried the plot with ease! First we have Aliyah Odofin who played the glue of the group, Shan and it's her 16th birthday and what better way to celebrate than a sleepover with your closest girls? 

Then we have Elle, played by Shayde Sinclair who made a stellar stage debut, the God fearing friend who is never far away from a Bible reference to interject and try ground the girls lofty aspirations or opinions. 

Rey, played by Amber Grappy, has a smart mouth to put it politely and will not shy away from standing up for herself and exudes confidence in her selfhood and identity. 

Bukky Bakery, the breakout star of the 2019 film Rocks and Netflix film The Strays, plays Funmi the friend that is genuinely so funny you wonder why they aren't already a comedian. 

The play has all the passion and energy of a coming-of-age plot but what sets it apart is its relatability. The girls individually go through their own arcs through the plot and one that stood out to me was Elle's. 

As soon as she was introduced as the character who was strong in her faith I was invested to see where her story would go. it was interesting to see how throughout the play although she appeared to be firm in her faith a lot of what she said seemed to be direct quotations of what people had said to her whether that be a parent or a preacher. This really reminded me of when I was younger and how I viewed god through the lens of people who were older than me because I drew the comparison that the older you were the more you knew God and that isn't necessarily the case. 

Rey (Amber Grappy) left & Elle (Shayde Sinclair) right

There came a point in the play where Elle and Rey share a kiss at prom and I think it's fair to acknowledge this moment as the pivotal point of the plot. After this event on prom night Elle isn't answering in the group chat or to individual texts from her concerned friends and she is specifically ignoring Rey. When she reappears one day she's completely changed her clothes are more covered she feels like a different person and I could feel that her heart posture was in a completely restrained place. 

She goes on to have a heated argument with Rey where she denounces being a lesbian, and I remember the audible shock of the audience when she said, "I'm not a lesbian, that is not what Black people do." Like I saw in the beginning of the play again Elle was still regurgitating what she heard and not what she actually believed. It is later revealed that whilst Elle was away she was taken to a Christian conversion camp by her parents and church leaders after she told them about the kiss at prom. 

I'm really glad that the play picked up on this topic, for two reasons:

1) Awareness 

It is quite common for people to think that conversion therapy/camps are a thing of the past but they are not. The play was set in 2016 but the fight to ban these practices continues to this day. Read here for more recent information regarding the ban. 

2) Spiritual Discovery

Being on a journey of self discovery isn't capped at your teens, I'm in my twenties and finding out new things about myself every day, but I believe the active pursuit for answers does begin in that post-secondary into university stage. As I mentioned earlier about Elle she seems to believe just because she was told to and hasn't found God for herself. As a Christian born into and raised in a Catholic Church I definitely found myself in that same space of believing the word of God because it was taught but not actually understanding and applying it into my everyday life and how I define myself as an individual. 

It can feel as though following God means leaving behind every part of who you are , and yes we should die to our flesh (Galatians 5:17) but it does not mean that we should do whatever we want but try to live a life that is in one accord with the word of God. How can you do this without knowing the Word and God for yourself? To me Elle embodied that moment where you realise you've been following a religion and not God. A moment in the play that amplifies this is where Elle attempts to "pray away" her feelings towards Rey she diligently repeats a series of sentences as a way to mute the thoughts in her mind. God doesn't want you to deny yourself by literally not coming to Him as you are but He encourages a true relationship with you. Colossians 3:23 says, "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." 

Towards the end of the play we see Elle come to terms with the fact that she is her own person outside of her parents perception of her and that her relationship with God needs to be personal. She attends an open day at Essex University and sees that they have a LGBT society that includes Christians and it changes her perspective of her selfhood and identity. 

What drew me in was the compelling storytelling which was highlighted by the performance of the actors. I didn't once feel like they were reading off of a script it was all too real and true to life, it really felt like I was eavesdropping on a real conversation. This is a shoutout to the director Jade Lewis who made sure that the the substance and essence of true friendship was overflowing throughout the play. The portrayal wasn't too harsh or cringe but loving, gentle and above all honest.. 

All four girls immediately reminded me of my own inner circle of friends from the random bursts of free styling, learning dance routines to the latest song, in the plays case Aidonia - Yeah Yeah. I laughed, I cried honestly I can't recommend this play enough it struck a perfect balance between the battles and joys of life.