“The average person will speak 123,205,750 words in their lifetime” But what do we do with them? What could we do with them, or what should we do with them, if given the chance? What if, Sam Steiner proposes in Lemons… his debut play, we had a limit?
Trainee-lawyer Bernadette and musician Oliver are two young people faced with just this question, as a Government imposed ‘word limit’ comes into practice. It limits not what is said, but how much. The implications of such a ban are explored through the daily lives of Bernadette and Oliver and their budding relationship, the play at once a love story and a political drama, engaging head and heart in a tussle of conflicting ideologies, intellects and emotions.
The narrative jumps back and forth in an alternating sequence to before and after the ban, but with everything completely stripped back (an empty stage besides two microphones) the only signifier of time changing is through the language itself. This provides us with a direct comparison to how their language, and their relationship, changes over time as a result. Can love alone fill the space left when a couple can’t communicate? Who are we, when we no longer have a verbal language with which to define ourselves?
By keeping the play stripped back and focused in this way the performances of Euan Kitson and Beth Holmes are thrown into sharp relief. Performing with audience on all sides, both actors prove they are masterly in not just their punchy delivery but in their physicality. Both are able to speak on all sides by ‘back acting’, expressing almost as much with their shoulders and stance as with their faces. Ed Franklin’s direction sees intelligent use of such a small space. The pace of the hour is maintained with flurries of movement, and there are serene moments of calm created in the static between.
The flow of the action is paralleled with the flow of noise. Protest is created with sound, with noise, activity and movement; oppression as the counterpoint is found in silence and stillness. It’s “Quite nice” Bernadette observes politely, it’s “eerie” and “Orwellian”, is Oliver’s first response.
Certainly, the allusions to our time are there in abundance and Lemons… could be read as an Orwellian-esque cautionary tale. Looking around and seeing the audience’s recognition at the shocked, horrified faces of Bernadette and Oliver as the results from the vote to ban came in are very telling: “It’s a bad law, I don’t think it’s going to pass”, Bernadette shrugs. Neither did we, quite clearly.
At the centre of this play is language, that is quite clear, but I would have been interested to see the play go deeper and explore in more detail the social-political impact on non-verbal communication. Why was it spoken word only that was limited, after all? What powers does the spoken word posses, that the written does not and how are these powers manifested in politics and society? I find the dichotemy between the written and spoken word fascinating, but perhaps this is something that would have been too complicated to portray in a visual way on the stage. Instead, noise is only way of getting your point across in a meaningful way “I can’t know you in 140” Bernadette says to Oliver, in despair, and exaggerated facial expressions, mime and morse code don’t seem to get them much closer either.