It feels somewhat inappropriate for me to review Lava. In reference to media articles about her last work, Do You Hear Us Now?, playwright Benedict Lombe talks about Black trauma and how it was never intended to be reviewed as theatre or entertainment, nor interpreted as a ‘lecture’ or a piece of content. Lava, through the lens of a woman looking to renew her British passport, is very much an extension of that, and as such, my review needs to respect what is said in the play itself. As a white audience member, it’s less about one’s reaction to the play. The purpose is, quite clearly, to listen.
And that isn’t hard to do at all. Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo (Three Sisters) quickly demolishes the fourth wall following a dance routine in its opening and is addressing us directly. The honesty of Lombe’s account is compelling and impactful, the delivery – aided by director Anthony Simpson-Pike – fast-paced and comical (one twist towards the end of the passport plot is particularly amusing). Just by placing a hand behind her back, Adékoluẹjo becomes the embodiment of the character’s male partner. Meanwhile, something is bubbling underneath the surface as Adékoluẹjo delivers the monologue, and the interruptions from white spectators, their voiceovers awash with casual racism and preventing her from speaking her truth.
Her lines are aired on a set, designed by Jasmine Swan, which has crumbling pillars in its corners, and a giant box in the background. A fitting scene for when everything from our protagonist feels boxed up, contained and brought into question. Why is her name missing from her South African passport? This is the main, unanswered question at the heart of this production, and its answer lies in rebellion and resistance. As an expansion of that, this piece of theatre refuses to be passive in its demands. This is far from just a tale of Black trauma, it’s a call to an action, and a resistance against expectations, tradition and what’s come before. The time, we are told, is now, and we are notified in a way which carries all the necessary urgency.
This review is light because it expects white audience members like me to listen, and to think, and in addition to those requirements often belonging to great works of theatre, in the case of Lava, the thinking continues long after one’s left the virtual auditorium.
Lava – Online is now streaming until 21 August.
Production Images: Helen Murray.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Lava – Online’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.