RADA Festival presents LAVA LAMPS by Imogen Hudson-Clayton: Theatre Review

Monologue plays, especially one-woman plays, have welcomed a new lease of life over the past couple of years – with Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients, George Brant’s Grounded, Phillip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag storming theatres in the UK and America.  Even Denise Van Outen had a bash with Some Girl I Used To Know. But the latest jewel in this crown of independent female performance is Lava Lamps by Imogen Hudson-Clayton, an unapologetically brazen exploration of womanhood and all her enemies.

Hudson-Clayton cheats slightly in marketing Lava Lamps as a one-woman show, because the intricacy and detail of her characterisation is so impressive that she actually introduces us to three completely individual women in The Lover, The Worker and The Mother. The nymphomaniac Lover feverishly waits to be beckoned to George’s bedroom, a slave to her own desires and a willing enabler of his. In the blink of an eye and the lengthening of a skirt, she becomes the resolute Worker. Fearsomely career-driven, she gets the same kick from number-crunching that the Lover gets from cigarettes and sex. Sweeping a hand through her hair, the steely Worker becomes the frantic, unkempt, baby-brained Mother who is walking proof that all women don’t simply slide into motherhood with ease and grace. Using these stock characters to cleverly topple expectation and defy convention, Hudson-Clayton reminds us that women are not rays of sunshine but supercell storms.

Her remarkable performance is equally matched by the great empathy and humour of her writing. The coarse, crude jokes are well-timed and appropriately balanced with true sentiment; an achievement which comes from Hudson-Clayton’s complete understanding of her own work and its authenticity. I was honestly blown away during the last ten minutes of the performance when her three characters converge, watching in awe as she jumped in and out of each skin with an enviable combination of velocity and finesse.

What’s particularly striking about Lava Lamps is its politics. A small clearing in the dense and dark jungle of womanhood, it brings to light exactly how much women are limited by societal expectation and double standards. We have so much to live up to that it’s laughable: we’re expected to bear and raise children but are penalised for taking time off to do this, we’re expected to work but are demonised if we choose our careers over children, we’re dismissed for being frigid but slut-shamed if we’re horny – I could go on. Hudson-Clayton sees the irony in this and its effect on female identity, and so gives us a play about women entrapped by their roles. But what she also does is allude to the power that lies in a small act of rebellion against that role. She ultimately gives her women the freedom to make a choice which, in a restrictive world, makes a deeply political statement.

Lava Lamps is as multi-faceted as the women that inspired it – it is sharp, sensual and subversive. Imogen Hudson-Clayton is a wonderful new voice for the theatre with wisdom beyond her years and cojones to rival any man’s. I look forward to seeing what she does next!

© Hannah Roe, 2015



Written and Performed by Imogen Hudson-Clayton

Part of RADA Festival 2015

Directed by David Zoob



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