As Oli very rightly states in Open Theatre’s production of Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, “There are some things that you just can’t say in 140 words…”. He mentions wedding speeches and “epic poetry”, and I would now like to add theatre reviews to his list. After I had the ‘great’ idea to try and review this show within the same word count that the characters in the play have to live with per day, the show’s poignant and politically relevant message hit home, and hard. I soon decided that I would find conforming to Sam Steiner’s Hush Law impossible, and continued to happily tap away in the comfort of my communicative freedom.
Forcing its audience to reflect on their place and role within society, as well as question how much control they have over their own lives, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons follows the episodic relationship of Oliver and Bernadette. When the government passes a law that limits society to no more than 140 words a day, we see exactly where the consequences of this kind of ban would take society.
The production’s co-directors, Natalia Izquierdo and Rebecca Gigliobianco, chose to direct the show with four couples portraying Oliver and Bernadette’s narrative, as opposed to the standard one. This allowed them to explore the similarities and differences between homosexual and heterosexual relationships within the script, which was definitely a refreshing concept to see on stage. However, unfortunately, this decision did leave me a little confused. I couldn’t quite grasp whether everyone was supposed to be a continuous representation of one couple (with the addition of the difference in gender), or whether the cast was supposed to be made up of four different couples, living in the same time-frame. Of course, the variation in each pairing’s names suggests the latter, but the lack of characterisation and differentiation left me unsure.
When looking at the production’s set, I have to say that I particularly loved the backdrop used on stage right, which was filled with pickets and protest banners. The different colours broke up the abundance of yellow on stage, and gave an interesting insight into the protests mentioned by the Olivers. As well as this, I thought that the use of the lightbulbs was very creative. Not only did they make for a low-lit, atmospheric set, but they complimented the directors’ choice to use multiple couples to portray Oliver and Bernadatte by lighting different parts of the stage depending on which couple the audience were to be focusing on. In the second act, the lightbulbs also acted as symbolism for when characters had maxed out their 140 words for the day. Congratulations has to go to Elle Money for her unique design concepts.
In terms of actual performance, for me, Molly Anderson (Olivia) and Connie Bradley (Beatrice) stole the show. The chemistry between them was energetic and playful, which matched the subtle romance in the script really well. I thought that, in comparison to the rest of the cast, the snippets of their relationship came across the most naturally, too; something that was vital in such a character-driven, delicate piece that focuses on the subtlety of human connection. With this in mind, I did often feel as though some members of the cast overacted a lot. Upon consideration, I can see how performing this kind of play in a space as big as [email protected] could be quite difficult; however with a cast of this size, I couldn’t see where else Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons would be staged at the University of Leeds.
Having the whole cast singing and dancing to Dancing In The Moonlight by Toploader was fabulous near-end to the show that allowed the fun side of Sam Steiner’s script to really shine. (Joe Fenna… I am still thinking about your glorious shimmying, and how jealous I am of your dance moves.) Not only did it make me think about the songs that I would choose to sing in my room, if I had to live by the Hush Law, but it also made me wonder how on Earth I would cope on a night out.
Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is an ingenious take on dystopia, fixed around a perfectly imperfect love story, which you could easily see making up an episode in Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. Open Theatre’s production took a unique spin on this underground favourite, with its success lying in its set design and acting.
Words by Morgan Hartley.