When first performed at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe, Manchester-born Sam Steiner’s dystopian vision of the future (yes, that again), where the state restricts people to a mere 140 words per day, must have seemed like a far-fetched notion. Fast forward eight years and, the way things have been going, it doesn’t seem so fantastical anymore.
At its heart, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is a kind of romantic comedy, albeit one set against a bleak landscape. It’s the type of mash-up that shouldn’t really work but, after a slowish start when it’s tricky to get your bearings, it builds into a surprisingly heartfelt play that draws you in.
This is in no small way down to the two extremely charismatic leads with whom it was a pleasure to spend 80 minutes. Aidan Turner plays Oliver with just the right amount of swagger and passion as his character rails against restrictions which threaten his burgeoning relationship with Bernadette, a lawyer portrayed by Jenna Coleman.
Coleman’s character is, in many ways, the polar opposite of musician Oliver. She is calmer, more trusting in the system and fuelled with a belief that, somehow, everything will all work out. This makes the moments when she does erupt with anger all the more affecting.
How they attempt to navigate their relationship during the state-imposed ‘hush law’ includes abbreviations, charades, protests (when not banned) and even a blast of Bonnie Tyler. It all delivers hope that no amount of restrictions or imposed silence can prevent the expression of love and emotion. There is meaning even in the smallest of gestures.
Turner and Coleman’s chemistry is undeniable as their characters struggle with what to say, how to say it and how to express themselves when unable to say anything at all. The occasional flashbacks to their first meeting at a cat cemetery stagger the flow a little and seem unnecessary, and, at times, there is a nerdy desire to start counting how many words they actually say (that may have just been me). However, the short scenes involving just a greeting or a movement keep things moving along at a steady pace.
The set is suitably minimal, with a curved backdrop enveloping the actors to match the feeling of their shrinking world. Occasional bursts of light warn of potential repercussions if the word count is exceeded. If only the same trick could have been used on audience members who occasionally ruined the mood by taking an age to open the noisiest bags of sweets imaginable.
Despite this, the atmosphere remained relatively intact and the stage door queue afterwards proved that the leads had more than delivered.
Main image by Johan Persson
Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is at Opera House, Manchester until March 25, 2023. For more information, click here.