The government imposes a new law: Brits can only speak 140 words per day. Oliver (Euan Kitson) and Bernadette (Beth Holmes) meet before the law is passed – at a funeral for a cat. Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons jumps back and forth in time, exploring this new romance before and after the law is set. Whilst the rich may survive with their daily limit, the working class may struggle to make a name for themselves. Bernadette needs her words for work. Oliver is an artist. How does a couple overcome the complexities of romance when after 140 words they’re completely cut off from speaking? And Bernadette’s talking in her sleep is certainly not helping.
Performed in-the-round, Kitson and Holmes move barefoot in the space and contrast their direct and indirect focus which has been choreographed to provide a purposeful beat to the movement. Both actors have mastered the stillness of a smile; that moment when the chemicals release, the eyes glisten and the cheeks brim with joy. Back-of-the-head acting was beautifully achieved; we get to know these characters – their expressions and idiosyncrasies – so even when their backs are turned we can picture their exact reactions and laugh at the appropriate moments. I would argue that the moment they turn away from you, we’re drawn further towards them.
Sam Steiner’s script is punchy, intelligent and a product of simple observations which make up the everyday essentials of human life; using up 40 words to order a smoothie, for instance. Its opening ambiguity – Oliver randomly knocking against the floor, the rules which we come to discover not yet established – resolves itself as the play progresses. In trusting the playwright, we don’t need to be the intellects; Steiner does this for us. We only need to look and listen. The story eventually comes to a halt, with little more to explore, and I cannot understand how after over 18 months of on-and-off performances its lengthiness hasn’t been nipped in the bud. It starts to become a little long with nowhere else to go.
With an urban colour scheme that blends in with the space, the actors remain neutral; everything from taking off a shoe to sleeping together is implied through the text and direction. Facing apart at the rim of the stage, we gain a real connection with the couple as they sleep together. Their connection with each other, from start to finish, drives them through the text and creates something beautifully natural from most absurd circumstances.
A play about uncertainty of what’s to come and how to cope. The performances excel, the text is a joy and the point is relevant to us all.
Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is playing Roundabout @ Summerhall until August 28.
Image by Giulia Delprato