After the England team lost, we had a day in which the awful people said awful things. Someone finally got their career cancelled, surprising everyone who thought it had happened years ago. The weather in London became symbolically terrible, and I had to walk through streets of overflowing drains in order to finally reach the Bush Theatre for the new production Lava.
This is the 3rd production I’ve seen at the Bush during the Covid era, and like the other 2 it is essentially a monologue dramatised with audio-visual interaction with the set design. It was in the Holloway Theatre, configured as a 3-sided performance space, and the audience assigned socially distanced seating and entering and leaving through 3 different doorways.
The stage is taken up with flat steps of rock leading mounted with a large central cardboard box of documents. Layers of lava are strung around and the ruins of classical architecture jut out. This is clearer in this picture from near the end, where you can also see the use of projections on to the memory box.
We start with the speaker (identified in the text as HER) dancing to the cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Think” by H.E.R. She then begins telling the story of her personal crisis when getting her British passport renewed, which required a long inquiry in to her past, and questioning her mother to fill in details that hadn’t been clear to her when she was a teenager who liked watching 90s American TV. Her family came from Zaire but moved to South Africa in the early 90s, just after the formal end of apartheid. They moved again to Ireland and then on to England – first Wigan, but then she moved down to London. All along the way she was questioned and interrogated and had her identity and existence posed as a problem. This story unfolds alongside a commentary on the history of the racial economy that grew out of slavery and colonialism.
Throughout the performance her speech is punctuated with pre-recorded voices of HM Passport Office communications as well as repetitive questions of the form “Why does it always have to be about race?” As the story reaches the present, it takes in the BLM marches of last year and breaks in to self-reference with a video appearance of Benedict Lombe herself, and projection of 2 reviews of her earlier projects – The Guardian was enthusiastic, whilst The Times sniffed that it was too didactic.
However this is not a lecture, it is a performance that uses the space and props to create a moving image. It is not any less a work of drama than any other modern theatre that has a single speaker sometimes mentioning matters of historical fact.