Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

MilkMilkLemonade

Joshua Conkel
Arch 468 and Ovalhouse
Ovalhouse

Daniel Francis-Swaby as Emory Credit: Alex Beckett

Since its 2009 Off-Off-Broadway premiere, (which won the New York Press Award) this zany fantasy has been cropping up all over America and as far away as Jerusalem.

The title comes from a 50-year-old American kid’s rude chant that briefly features in it: “Milk, milk, lemonade / Round the back’s where chocolates made” sung with gestures to nipples, crutch and bum. That doesn’t make this a smutty show but it is definitely meant to be subversive.

Eleven-year-old Emory lives on his grandmother’s chicken farm. There’s a kid down the road who likes setting fire to things. He’s called Elliot and they form a very intimate relationship (they must mature quite early out there in the sticks) but Emory’s best friend is a chicken called Linda and his favourite toy is a Barbie doll called Starlene.

Yes! It’s a play about dealing with difference: a sort of surreal allegory for growing up gay in a world of straight conformity and butch stereotyping.

Whatever is intended as an underlying serious message, this adds up to a great excuse for camp fun and some stylishly outrageous performances. Fortunately, its performers play their characters entirely seriously, though pointing each laugh line to make sure it scores, so instead of being silly it is genuinely funny.

James Turner’s design sets it up as though for a hoedown with circles of hay bales for audience seating, a red barn with a windmill pump behind it, a miniature cut-out of the farmhouse, a shiny new dustbin and, round your feet everywhere, a clutter of white balloon chickens with drawn-on eyes and stuck-on yellow beaks and red combs.

Enter a lady in a leotard. She is big and she’s bouncy and she’s going to act like a narrator, play a TV MC and ancillary characters including a little boy’s bad side and a fatal-fanged spider. She is Georgia Buchanan, locking on to the audience and allowing herself to be a bit jokey—this ain’t no Method performance.

Now meet Emory. Daniel Francis-Swaby becomes the 11-year-old charmer. He is innocently dreaming of winning a TV showbiz competition with his self-choreographed ribbon dance. It's a lovely performance, and not a lone one.

Next there’s Nanna. Deep-voiced Benedict Hopper in boots, skirt and tee-shirt, fag in mouth and lines drawn on his face to age him. He’s a gran full of tough love.

Elliot is another piece of cross-gender casting. Rake thin and black-eyed Sophie Steer doesn’t even have to cut her hair to be convincing boy, she just acts it.

Then there is Linda. No balloon this one, but Laura Evelyn cluck-clucking away with Leotard Lady giving occasional translation. It’s another lovely performance in a clever costume that even has the point of a tail on the backside.

Does Emory find a way to save Linda from the processing plant? Does oxygen-aided Nana succumb to that persistent coughing? Do Emory and Elliot’s pure white genitals (No, you have to see them!) signify innocence?

I am not going to tell you. Going along to the Oval (if you are straw-allergic take your anti-histamines with you) and enjoy director Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s well-judged production. There is nothing pretentious about it. It’s life-affirming and joyful, whatever dark issues may lie behind it.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton