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[Review:] LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS LEMONS, Barons Court Theatre, London.

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is a play by Sam Steiner which echoes the voice of the present in unearthing widespread anxieties surrounding the digital age and social media. Its central message: we do not talk like we used to. Oliver and Bernadette live in a world approaching a dystopia, where a law is passed that every individual can only speak 140 words per day. This play, directed by Hamish Clayton, was recently performed at the Barons Court Theatre by Jemima Murphy (playing Bernadette) and Charlie Suff (playing Oliver)

I shall start with a comment on the writing. I find that this playtext sufficiently encapsulates the degradation of communication in its different styles of dramatic writing, if a little unimaginative in places. However, I feel that it lacks attention to detail. For example, Bernadette and Oliver are able to communicate with their eyes yet they are unable to abbreviate phrases like 'Gives us an idea' into 'Gives idea'.

I felt that this lack of attention was somewhat mirrored in this performance, notably in the set design (Gareth Rowntree): a large white cabinet housing books, a guitar, two dinner plates, a duvet and two pillows, ketchup and gravy, and a framed picture of a cat. Whilst I understand these first two to be methods of non-verbal communication and the very latter as a homage to the pet cemetery, I fail to see the cohesion of these items. If the performance can function without it, it need not be there. Similarly, if it is not producing a strong visual impact, it should be avoided. I feel that the dinners hidden amongst the books took away from the severity of the scene where they were needed and hence revealed. Perhaps the intention was for these to be comedic – which would have been erroneous – but this would have already been squandered by the ketchup and gravy being already visible from the beginning of the play.

At first, I found the duvet and the pillows to be disorderly, their retrieval and handling too time-consuming. However, as the performance went on and this became a recurring motif, I found it very satisfying and almost therapeutic. Moments like these which allude to a structural or ritualistic reality to which characters belong are efficacious in their subtlety, and they are significantly important for a play like this which demands visuals and other forms of dialogue than speech.

This brings me on to choreography. Not the play's strong point due to shortage of variation, but sequences of physical movement certainly evoked some powerful and engaging images. I was particularly fond of movements that translated the text – e.g. the conciliating, purposeful breathing of one juxtaposed against the rushed pacing of another – and not so fond of overly repeated movements such as Jemima Murphy's jumping onto Charlie Suff, wrapping her arms and legs around him. Again, unnatural and peculiar positions that the performers found themselves in – sat upon each other or lying into one another – added that extra, needed texture, particularising their relationship, making it unique and unordinary.

I felt that this performance made good use of space. The actors presented diagonally regularly, meaning that it was rare for action to not be visible to all three sides of the audience simultaneously. Unreserved seating was a good decision for this performance – though I cannot be sure if this was a conscious, directorial decision or a venue-based one. I would aim to localise movement to the stage itself, however. Moments when characters left the stage rather aimlessly, only to immediately return became irksome to watch. This was primarily the case for Suff who seemed to edge towards the parameters of the stage quite frequently. Leaving the space altogether, however, was less problematic; I refer simply to moments where characters approached the edges of the stage, or stepped off, only to return straightaway. On a similar note, the moment in the latter part of the play where Snuff reads a cat's tombstone should not have been addressed to an audience member. This is not a performance that benefits from or demands audience interaction, and this was a severe and unnecessary style disruption.

Lighting (designed by Gregory Jordan) was impeccable for this performance. I felt that using the two cotton lightboxes to count down how many words the characters had left was a lovely touch and blended in nicely with the aesthetic (however odd it was overall!). I do feel, however, that this performance could have started with these lightboxes as a prelude to what was to come. I felt that the dancing was quite a corny and subtractive way to begin. Given the fragmented nature of the script, it is better to give the audience as much information as possible at first, and dancing can sometimes be very impersonal in theatre without a designated character, as was the case here, in my opinion.

Music was befitting and was mixed very well to distinguish between diegetic and non-diegetic sound. However, this effect was in slight danger of becoming overused. The rendition of 'Baggy Trousers' could have been shorter, as well. Overall, I was impressed by the sharpness of the tech (operated by Charlotte Brown), especially given the sheer amount of cues.

As for characterisation, Murphy's and Suff's performances were above adequate. Humour and emotion were carried well, though there is an issue with realism in places. There are moments where dialogue feels too wooden or artificial. One example of this is Murphy's delivery of "Lemons, lemons, lemons..." This was far too deliberate, accumulating a decisive pause and change of stance beforehand and seeming much too pre-planned. Attention should come organically to these lines due to their relationship to or poignancy within the play and should not be drawn in by over-calculated delivery. This line in particular is already the title of the play, and so its significance is evident to an audience; thus, it should be downplayed.

Tone often shifted prematurely in this way for both performers, and I feel that more care could be taken in considering the meaning and the subtext behind the lines. Also, repeated or follow-on scenes were not identical in their execution, and this was a problem for sense as much as style. I would also be aware of pacing towards the end of the play. Where it should feel like a climax is approaching, the momentum became rather dull. I do think this is a mixture, however, of pacing and the nature of the script/plot itself. That said, the chemistry between the two actors was intense and yet humbling. It was enjoyable, amusing and intriguing to watch their interactions, whether loving or hateful.

“An attractive and pleasant play, technically advanced and well executed.”


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