Review: Pink Lemonade (Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh)

Mika Johnson’s new piece arrives at the Fringe as part of HighTide and Queer House’s season

Mika Johnson in Pink Lemonade
Mika Johnson in Pink Lemonade
© Max Zadeh

Mika Johnson's new piece – their debut at the Edinburgh Fringe – is sly, funny and full of a refreshing clarity. The story they tell is a very personal one about the meaning of trans-identity and the difficulty gender and sexuality labels pose when it comes to love.

It's a solo show that mixes movement, spoken word, rap and good old-fashioned storytelling. "When are we not performing?" says Johnson, and in Pink Lemonade, they take the everyday performances – those postures, signs, symbols and signifiers that society uses – and holding them up to us, reflecting and distorting them so we begin to see how empty they really are.

Running central is the story of Johnson and Simmi, who Johnson immediately falls for when they start work in a bar. Johnson's relationship with Simmi is contrasted to the one they have with Toni – who spouts racist clichés without a thought. Toni likes the attention the two of them together attract – Toni white, Johnson brown, kissing in a male-heavy pub as if Johnson was a kind of trophy. While Johnson can shrug off that entanglement, with Simmi it is more complex. Simmi refuses to acknowledge the love she has for Johnson and repeatedly denies she likes anything other than men: "I'm not a lesbian, you're just special". It's a relationship that lays bare both how Simmi is fearful of breaking out of our gender and sexuality norms and how hard that then is for someone like Johnson, whose heart begins to shatter.

But Pink Lemonade does more than simply focus on relationships: it is an exploration of feeling other in a society that is so geared against acceptance. Johnson is a compelling, approachable presence, revealing their tale with heart and commitment. We see a moment in a barber's shop, where Johnson gets their hair cut the first time they come out as queer and the barber explains that Johnson may like girls, but "all you really need is a man". The same questions keep popping up – what is femininity? What does it take to be masculine?

It's all staged with charm and many laughs – including a simulated sex scene which is hilarious – and the disparate elements combine to create a fluid, engaging whole. Johnson's is a dynamic new voice.

You can read all our Edinburgh Festival coverage here.

The piece will also run as part of the HighTide Festival in Aldeburgh from 10 to 15 September.