For the audience members lucky enough to arrive early to Bilal Zafar’s show, there’s a treat in store: cupcakes are placed on the first two rows of seats. While undoubtedly intended to sweeten viewers, they’re not just a random audience bribe – they’re also a link to the theme of the show.
He’s received various endorsements including NATYS New Act of the Year 2016 (previously the Hackney Empire Award), but Cakes is Zafar’s Edinburgh Fringe debut, and it’s an intriguing one. Exploring how a Twitter joke by his brother led to Zafar impersonating a Muslim bakery and consequently becoming a target for racist groups as niche as EDL Spain, Cakes addresses issues of Islamophobia and internet trolling with a large dollop of irony. Zafar has a deadpan delivery that works perfectly when narrating absurd events, and he is aided by a Powerpoint presentation displaying various pictures and excerpts from his Twitter timeline. Taking on the character of a fictional bakery owner, Zafar’s purposeful misspellings prompt particular fits of laughter from the audience.
There are a couple of uncertain moments: Zafar is more hesitant when going off script, describing himself as not great at banter. Considering this weakness, the decision to conclude Cakes with a Q&A session seems brave but risky, as it leaves him somewhat at the mercy of his audience. A section about press misreporting and Brexit is articulate but could be better integrated, appearing slightly jammed-in. However, these flaws are forgivable for a first show, and Zafar’s material and pace are otherwise excellent.
It’s still the early days of the Fringe, but Cakes is one to hurry to see – on the day reviewed there are only a few spare seats left in the audience. It’s a startlingly strong first show: funny, original, and just bizarre enough for the Fringe.