Review: Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons
Image courtesy First Floor
Jemima Murphy - Bernadette
Charlie Suff - Oliver
The British government has introduced a law limiting speech for its citizens to 140 words a day.
For Bernadette and Oliver, every word they speak will have to really mean something.
They devise new ways to communicate with each other within the constraints of the law, but without the freedom to use words as they wish, they are helpless ...
After a sell-out run in 2015 at The Edinburgh Fringe and a UK tour, First Floor Presents brings a new production of Sam Steiner's Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons to the stage.
First Floor Presents dedicate their work to theatre that matters.
Lemons deliberates today's social conflicts and the wider issues of democracy and freedom of speech.
Alongside the affects of Brexit, Steiner examines modern society in regards to new unanticipated consequences (Black Mirror springs to mind).
In a world where Donald Trump announces his agenda via Twitter, Lemons could not be more relevant to demonstrate the power of language.
Positives and negatives surface in almost equal proportions in this, at times, irritating story, resulting in an overall rating that doesn't adequately reflect the huge potential or capabilities of either the company or the playwright.
Reading the synopsis, you pretty-much know the basic idea on which this play and its central plot relies.
Watching it (and having forgotten the synopsis I read weeks ago) I found the first half a struggle.
In general, even if I haven't forgotten the synopsis, I try to remove it from my mind before I see a production - it's the act of watching a play unfold that should reveal what it's about and its overall significance, not what I or the audience have read beforehand.
So the first half of Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons (which I will shorten hereafter to just 'Lemons' for the sake of brevity) is a struggle.
That is because the characters refer to numbers at the start of much of their dialogue.
The reason is unclear and proves exasperating and not a little irritating - deliberately so, I think, and not in itself inappropriate.
About half-way through the play, the penny actually drops and we then understand the reason why the characters keep referencing numbers.
The synopsis actually gives the game away - unnecessarily in my view.
A new law is the cause.
I can't remember any explanation being given for why the law was actually enacted - maybe it doesn't really matter.
There are some practicalities, though, which go unexplained and unchallenged.
For example, just how does the government know how many words the characters speak each day?
Yet lights on the back wall indicate when their allowance has run out.
But maybe detailed reality doesn't matter too much either.
Now it's perfectly acceptable to irritate audiences and to leave them to figure out what's happening in a play and why.
But the second half of this production almost recycles a large slice of the first, which felt as though we were being spoon-fed rather being left to make up our own minds about the law and its consequences.
Another irritating facet of this show lies with the relative brevity of many scenes and the repetition of some - I thought I would scream if the actors unfurled their duvet just one more time.
Now I can see the rationale behind the play's overall construction and its methodology in performance.
But it nevertheless left me feeling disempowered - even if the play's intention was to describe that as an effect of the law.
On the positive side, Hamish Clayton's production is certainly considered and polished, exhorting highly committed and accomplished performances from both Jemima Murphy as Bernadette and Charlie Suff as Oliver.
Mr Clayton injects the entire piece with detailed movement - some of it deliberately repetitive, like placing chairs in a particular way, and introducing a sense of restrictive beauroratic dogma into proceedings.
And well-selected music augments the overall atmosphere substantially and appropriately.
In spite of my gripes, Lemons is undoubtedly provocative and intelligent with ample food for thought about bureaucracy and ill-conceived and misguided legislation.
Almost in spite of itself, it also raises an important question about theatre in general, namely, how much do you tell an audience before they see a show, and how much do you leave them to fathom out what a play is about while they're watching it.
It's a tough call.
Even though I don't think Lemons got the balance quite right, there's plenty of impressive evidence in this production of professionality, creative dedication and ambition that makes First Floor Presents a company worth keeping an eye out for in the future.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Barons Court Theatre
Our show listing for Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons
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