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Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons review

| Festivals, Theatre | 23/08/2016

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Rating:

Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

Sam Steiner’s powerful play about a dystopian society in which words are rationed is performed to perfection by Beth Holmes and Euan Kitson, reinforcing the importance of freedom of speech and feeding relationships with communication.  

Lemons – as I’ll call it due to an (albeit less) oppressive word restriction – is a wonderfully moving production, documenting the lives of a young couple before and after ‘The Hush Law’ is enacted.  The law, which solicitor Bernadette (Beth Holmes) wrongly tells her boyfriend and musician Oliver (Euan Kitson) “won’t pass”, restricts citizens to no more than 140 words per day.  Oliver protests against it, saying it’ll hit the poor harder than the rich; Bernadette can’t quite see the danger: “It’s not censorship,” she says.  “It just encourages brevity.”

The play jumps forwards and backwards, contrasting the couple’s initially free and easy interaction with later, stilted conversations preceded with how many words each have left to share.  The leftovers rarely match up, adding further tension to the physical and mental strain caused by speech rationing.  This tension spills over, leading to a powerful exchange from which the play’s title arises when Bernadette purposely wastes her words to spite Oliver.

Both Holmes and Kitson are superb in their roles, switching easily from comedy to despair, and from love to resentment.  Their most powerful moment comes as they watch the law pass on television, chiming with the disbelief many felt following the Brexit vote.  Once they overcome their shock, Bernadette and Oliver have four days to say all they want to each other, but they’re hampered by his efforts to fight the law and their attempts to agree some sort of code in advance.  As time ticks away, they belatedly spill out some hurtful assertions, providing a resentful backdrop to their subsequent, limited exchanges.

It’s not all bleak.  There are plenty of funny and endearing moments in the pre-law scenes, vital in growing empathy for what comes next.  Even once the law passes, Holmes and Kitson earn laughs: wasting 40 words ordering a smoothie, trying to have silent sex and hoarding all day so they can rap most of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in bed.

But it’s not laughter you take away with you.  It’s the suffocation and powerlessness when freedom of speech is removed.  And the awful impact oppression can have on already challenging relationships.  If you don’t feel an overwhelming desire to speak to a loved one immediately after watching this, you’re dead inside.

I’ve exceeded my word limit, but I don’t care.  Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons.

Lemons is being performed at 13.20 at Roundabout @ Summerhall until 28th August.  For tickets, go here.  Walrus Theatre Company then take the play on a national tour, before returning to London for performances at Camden People’s Theatre on 24th-26th October.  Head here for tickets.  To find out more about the show, see Walrus’ Facebook page or follow @WalrusTheatre on Twitter.

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