Writer: Benedict Lombe
Director: Anthony Simpson-Pike
The force of theatre is felt most when a play transcends the boundaries of its own limitations. Lava, the latest production at Bush Theatre, does just that. Electric, this 80-minute monologue manages to cover an immensity of content whilst also reflecting on its own function as work of art, activism and entertainment.
Benedict Lombe’s script is a rhythmic, poetic journey across space and time. After surging onto the stage with humour and dance the protagonist, Her (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo), spins her tale. It is the story of her real name, and it is embedded in thousands of other stories. From the Congo to South Africa, Ireland and England, Her retraces her childhood. Painful truths about global history are pulled from her memories. Lombe’s scope is remarkable. No stone is turned with haste. Lava’s writing is wry, lyrical, angry, graceful, and rapid but never rushed.
Such a script as Lava’s demands an exceptional talent such as Adékoluẹjo, who delivers line after line with magnetism. Jasmin Swan’s set design, and the use of voice recordings and video projections provide just enough for Adékoluẹjo to volley with; it would be impossible to overshadow her. Even with her back to you watching video footage, sharing the experience of spectatorship, she is commanding. The entire production is flawless, from its moments of stillness to its blazing red eruption.
Her’s narrative provides a framing device to raise questions about racism in world history and Britain today. While the play somewhat abandons this story in order to confront current politics, it can be forgiven because of the crucial issues it raises. Metatheatre is integral to Lava. A video projection of Lombe’s response to George Floyd’s murder is screened on the back of the stage, fronted by one of its reviews: “more lecture than theatre.” It demands we reconsider the forms of Black pain and anger that are deemed socially acceptable by white people. Blind rage? No. But translated into amiable entertainment, yes. The contradiction this incites in the audience, who are nodding at the reproach of consuming Black pain for entertainment, as they sit in a theatre watching an extremely entertaining play about racism, is phenomenal.
Lava certainly does not “lecture”, but it does teach important lessons on history, racism and art. To leave a theatre examining not just a play’s content, but also your own part in engaging with that content, is an extraordinary experience.
Runs until 7 August 2021