Writer: Joshua Conkel
Director: Rebecca Atkinson-Lord
Reviewer: Nichola Daunton
After premièring in New York in 2009, Joshua Conkel’s MilkMilkLemonade has finally made it across the pond to London’s Ovalhouse. An exploration of gender, sexuality, the human body and the societal rules that govern us, Conkel’s play is trashy, camp and often very touching. A slice of Deep South Americana that combines the style of Tennessee Williams, John Waters and reality TV.
Emory, an 11-year-old boy living on an isolated chicken farm, is a ribbon-stick dancing daydreamer whose best friend is a giant depressed chicken called Linda. Looked after by his Nanna, who runs the farm and has very clear ideas about gender rôles, Emory dreams of dancing on TV and plots to save Linda from the processing machine. Also in Emory’s life though is Elliot, a masculine boy who knows how to throw properly and isn’t afraid of violence. Elliot though, has another side, one that fantasizes about the prom and wants Emory to be his date.
Fresh, vivid and not a little mad, Conkel’s play is full of life from the very beginning. Watched over by Lady-in-Leotard, a sort of emcee, who sings, dance and tells us what’s what, the action all takes place in James Turner’s brilliantly realised set, a mixture of hay bales, inflatable chickens and child-like ideas of what a farm should be. Emory and Elliot, played by Daniel Francis-Swaby and Sophie Steer are both excellent, balancing childhood innocence, sexual discovery and an awareness that they are already, at the tender age of 11, trapped by society’s idea of gender. Elliot’s obsession with Molly Ringwald inspired visions of prom night is particularly touching, especially when he uses traditional gender stereotypes to make sense of his feelings for Emory.
Laura Evelyn and Benedict Hopper are also great as Linda and Nanna, a chicken who has outgrown her purpose in life, and a menacing old dame in the great Deep South style who can’t cope with the gradual decaying of age but it determined to hold on so she can make everyone else’s lives as miserable as hers. Despite the deadening weight of his Nanna though, what shines through the most in this play is Emory’s fierce, innocent determination to be the person he is, no matter what anyone else thinks of him.
From young bodies that want to stretch towards to the future, to old bodies that are aching for the grave, Conkel’s play may be encased in a camp and trashy exterior, but at its heart, it is a sweet and moving tale about discovering who you are and trying your best to stay true to it.
Runs until 25 October