Review: Lava (Bush Theatre)

Benedict Lombe’s new play, Lava, is semi-autobiographical and full of activism and difficult moments, alongside a story railing against Kafkaesque bureaucracy.

Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo plays Her, a version of Lombe, and she is having problems renewing her passport. Lava is constructed in sections – a pre-show which involves the joy and abandonment of being Her-self; a prologue in the present; as a baby in Zaire (now the Congo) during political repression; childhood in post-Apartheid South Africa where there is still a question of “difference”; young adulthood in Ireland; settlement and assimilation of sorts in England.

The set (by Jasmine Swan) is a lava lake, a volcano waiting to erupt, with broken columns and volcanic rock. There is a giant cardboard box which hosts projections now and then, which dominates the stage.

Otherwise, any settings and people other than Her are in your imagination; Adékoluẹjo brings some to life but others are brought into the story through recorded voice.

Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo in Lava

Covering a lot of ground from the meaning of an Old Testament verse, the separation of different coloured kidney beans, American soaps and romcoms, and that ever-evolving sense of self, Lombe’s play is passionate, powerful, and challenging. In her epilogue in celebration of those of her race, there is a coda which charms and lifts the spirits, with the provocative undertone of “can you hear me now?”

The finding of a name which was problematic at birth is only part of this play, which has heart and strength but which sometimes veers into uncomfortable territory; but these conversations need to be had, and in the current climate of injustice across the globe to those from races and colours which are “different”, need to be understood.

Lava is very well-presented with director Anthony Simpson-Pike developing a memorable piece of drama from Lombe’s lyrical and carefully-phrased text.

Adékoluẹjo is a dynamic performer, her richness of voice and movement (directed by DK Fashola) pulling her audience in, with all three blocks of seating included at each moment. (although, inevitably, side blocks miss some of the visual nuances). This is a play which often ignores the fourth wall, implying that enough barriers exist without adding one more.

Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo in Lava

I also need to mention the lighting by Jai Morjaria, which is exceptional and transforms the space at key moments; and Josh Anio-Grigg’s sound design, which adds layers of support to this one-woman show.

The film excerpt by Lombe shown near the end of Lava comes from one of the films in The Protest: Black Lives Matter, which can be viewed via this YouTube playlist.

Lava is playing at the Bush Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush, until 7 August. Book your tickets here.

Image credit – header image of Benedict Lombe by Latoya Fits Okuneye; production photos by Helen Murray.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to review Lava.