Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons at Barons Court Theatre
A 140-word review could probably outline a plot, with perhaps blunt critique and limited discussion, either mathematically calculated or rushed. That’s exactly how many words Bernadette and Oliver (and the rest of Britain) must communicate with each day when a government law limiting speech is introduced. Sam Steiner’s drama may be dystopian but it will resonate with audiences through the simultaneous dissection of both a relationship and the importance of our words.
A bizarre but intriguing concept, think a slightly more generous Twitter circa 2008. Does saying less mean thinking more? Are words intrinsically linked to class, privilege and unlimited power or oppression? What do we have without our freedom of speech? There’s no explanation offered for such a draconian law but it’s a vote that passes contrary to expectation and protest. Under Hamish Clayton’s direction, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons‘s political parallels are present though not explicit.
Couples often have their own private language, and the protagonists have to quickly adapt – whether it’s floor Morse code, calculated words, portmanteau or intense eye contact. But is this enough communication to sustain a relationship? Can a value be placed on love via the number of words “banked”? Through the non-linear narrative, Bernadette and Oliver navigate jealousy, work, commitment and different backgrounds – both in the playful past and constrained present. It can feel choppy and jumpy at times, combined with Steiner’s script being stuffed full of references to language, however, some choices of words carry a more poignant meaning.
The set design of the intimate basement theatre is simple, consisting of a bookshelf and two lights that turn red when a day’s quota has been reached. The space is well utilised by non-verbal cues: dancing, stomping, embracing…there’s even a makeshift bed on the floor for an awkward scene or two. The music is an impactful addition – be it an intro with a stripped-back Sound of da Police or the couple spending all their words singing to Madness. And of course, there’s the unmistakable power of silence.
Though they could quite easily be unlikeable, the characters are played by Jemima Murphy and Charlie Suff with honesty, relatability and tonal range, the most emotional scenes being the ones where pent up anger is released through raised voices and unrestrained accusations.
For a play involving extreme conciseness, Lemons has a tendency to feel dragged out. Ultimately, however, it’s about voices needing to be heard. When the script gives you “Lemons…”, it’s a sign of exasperation; a loss for words…and power. The spectator leaves the theatre reminded that, in the real world, every word counts.
Photo: Maximilian Clarke
Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is at Barons Court Theatre from 6th until 26th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.