Review: Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, Barons Court Theatre

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is a dystopian drama written by Sam Steiner. The punchy, tightly-packed script presents a world in which the British government has introduced a “Quietude Bill”, a new law which means that every citizen’s speech is limited to 140 words a day. It’s a two-hander featuring Bernadette (Jemima Murphy) and Oliver (Charlie Suff) as they attempt to navigate their relationship in spite of the new restrictions.

This is a play about words, and how we use them. It’s also an intimate study of a relationship, for which the small, crypt-like space of Barons Court Theatre is appropriate. The design by Gareth Rowntree is simple and clean. There is a white shelving unit from which various props and set-pieces are retrieved, two white chairs, and two hanging box-shaped lights which turn an ominous red whenever Oliver or Bernadette run out of words for the day (lighting design by Gregory Jordan).

The structure of Steiner’s play is fragmented, flitting between moments early in the relationship, the build-up to the Quietude Bill being introduced, and when it is in full swing. Some scenes are long exchanges, some are made up of just two words. It should be a pacey, snappy journey; but this production is too focussed on transitions.

Each scene-change is punctuated by electronic music (modern, recognizable inputs including James Blake and Thom Yorke), which often feel at odds with the tone of the play. These transitions also include small, choreographed movements which are intended to reflect the state of the relationship – but this doesn’t really land. Often I find the movement to be unconvincing and a little clichéd, weighing down the piece with an extra twenty minutes that it just doesn’t need.

Bernadette is a lawyer and Oliver a struggling musician. He is politically inclined; eager to protest and make noise about the imposing of the new law. Bernadette would rather just make the best of things. These two protagonists are supposed to be an unlikely couple, but I find Suff and Murphy a little lacking in on-stage chemistry. Direction by Hamish Clayton provides some delicate and tender moments, bringing out the natural humour of the text and performers. However, the portrayal of their relationship is just a little too intense – arguments and disagreements between the two felt too “big”, too shouty and just not very realistic.

Watching the couple attempt to communicate and keep their relationship alive when, for example, Oliver comes home having saved most of his words for Bernadette but she’s come home with only ten left, is painful – and oddly relatable despite the un-real circumstances. Towards the end, the pair sing and dance to Madness’ ‘Baggy Trousers’, having fun together and flagrantly wasting the precious words they have. It’s a really enjoyable, light moment. But again, this welcome change of pace is ground to a halt by a long and drawn-out fading of lights and music.

Overall, I feel that this production needs to be much tighter to hold its audience’s attention. Over the last half hour, I feel a collective restlessness as the piece stretches farther than our engagement. Saying this, it is a  capable productionof a play addressing the highly pertinent issues of silencing and democracy – questions that can’t be ignored.

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is playing Barons Court Theatre until 26 May. For more information and tickets see the Brown Paper Tickets website.