Firstly, hats off to the Bush Theatre for this great season of complementary productions, giving trans creatives the space to show what they can do, in whatever body they choose to do it in! It’s so rare to see work of this nature that it’s all relatively new to me. Pink Lemonade written and starring the amazing Mika Onyx Johnson is a challenging piece of work that really targets a gap in my knowledge. A full day after the show I’m still thinking about its complexities! One thing I am sure of is that in welcoming the audience into the grey area of what transgender identity entails, it fills it with colour.
Funky, sensuous music throbs as I enter the studio space at the Bush Theatre. The set is covered all over in soft fabric: it’s kind of a sexy pink boudoir feel; tactile, a bit like Mika, who arrives full of bravado and intimately fondles the walls, owning the space. They tell us they are new to this male body, and questioning what it means to be termed ‘a man’.
The judgmental space that Mika exists in is exposed in an autobiographical narrative of toxic relationships with women. On one hand there is Token Toni, who is there to be seen to be cool. The fatigue of her virtue signalling is wearing and destructive to their relationship. And then there is Simmi, who really likes them, agrees that they work well together, but can’t handle being thought of as a lesbian. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well. It’s not just the women though: even the barber has something to say on what it takes to ‘be a man’. Perceived by different people in a variety of ways – usually inappropriately – Mika suffers doubly from society’s misogyny and toxic masculinity in this middle space. Ultimately their choice is to be themselves, in whatever form that may be, and own it.
After all, fundamentally it’s not only about the body they inhabit, as Mika is so much more besides than any gender construct. They are black, intelligent, sexy, talented and from Nottingham! All this really can’t be defined by any single word. The call for action is to “see me”, and my god, this is a performer you really can’t miss.
There’s so much to love here. Despite the serious subject underlying it, the performance is incredibly funny, delivering laughs again and again with clever wit and hilarious physical comedy. The original music is sometimes sensuous and sympathetic, rounding out the atmosphere of sexuality surrounding the conversation, but then injects massive amounts of energy, to reflect the highs and lows of Mika’s story. There’s innovative, creative use of the space and lighting, with Emily Aboud’s direction bringing dynamism and focus in equal measure. Sharply original writing, spoken word poetry, rap and impeccably timed comedy prove that, like its protagonist, this show is intersectional and intellectual: completely engaging.
Life will give you lemons. They’re hard and sharp, and yeh, we know you can make lemonade with them. But Mika’s lemonade is uniquely pink, and it’s in a cocktail glass. It’s a work of art that makes you rethink what you think you know. This production may leave the subject of gender identity shaken and stirred, but it’s oh so sweet!
Written and performed by: Mika Onyx Johnson
Directed by: Emily Aboud
Produced by: The Queer House
Pink Lemonade plays in Bush Theatre’s Studio until 1 October. Tickets and further information via the below link.