Pink Lemonade review: Gripping autobiographical storytelling filled with creativity

·2-min read
Mika Onyx Johnson  (Helen Murray)
Mika Onyx Johnson (Helen Murray)

The velvety-pink walls that frame Mika Onyx Johnson’s hit fringe show seem to purr as they’re luxuriously stroked, slapped and caressed in its opening moments. Pink Lemonade is a luxuriantly staged show about queer sex and pleasure. But not the simple, sugary sweet kind. Johnson’s gripping autobiographical storytelling looks at how the need for love makes you vulnerable, tearing you open and exposing you to danger as well as joy.

This story centres on wince-inducing relationships with two different women. Simmi, Mika’s sweet, attention-hungry co-worker, wants sex but can’t deal with being seen as a lesbian: it has to be a secret. It’s the opposite problem with Toni: she wants to make things way, way too public. She’s a white woman who fetishes black and brown butches - in an agonisingly vividly written scene, she drags Mika to a pub that “smells like Boris Johnson’s arsehole”, and forces them into public kisses while white men openly leer and stare.

Pink Lemonade builds and builds towards an oppressive sense that nowhere’s really safe for Mika: not work, not the white queer community, not even the barbers where they go to get their first buzzcut. It’s soaked in shame and fear and clear-eyed horror at how easily even the smallest interaction can be soured by casually bigoted words. But in the middle of all this discomfort, Johnson couldn’t look more at ease on the stage. They’re a gifted performer, full of a natural charm that radiates out into the crowd, always ready to snap out of an intense moment with a wink or a swagger.

Director Emily Aboud brings so much creativity to this performance’s movement sections too, where Johnson makes their body as tender and wobbly as jelly, or washboard-stiff with aftershave-drenched masculinity, or vibrating to hilariously extravagant orgasms matched by pulses of bright neon light.

It’s a dizzying combination, this show’s mix of vividly abstract images and all-too-real, witty observations, like Toni’s cringey love of Jamie Oliver’s microwave jerk rice. It also feels like a fluid one. Pink Lemonade feels like a collaged moment in time, part of a queer journey of becoming that’ll keep on going long after the lights go up. And after an hour in Johnson’s company, the audience is left longing to know what’ll come next.

Bush Theatre, W12. Until October 1.

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