REVIEW: Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons @ Theatre Royal Brighton

Brian Butler March 29, 2023

Like all dystopian dramas, Sam Steiner’s new play starts from a situation near our own before spiralling, perfectly logically, to a state of anarchy and despotism.

Instead of its repetitive fruity title, it could have been called ”words, words, words”. Oliver, a composer meets Bernadette a lawyer at a pet cemetery, and that unusual play opening sets the scene for a show that is never quite what it says it is.

Without over-intellectualising what is anyway a cerebral piece, this is a sharp, dark but funny look at how lost freedoms eventually get coped with. The Government has announced that a new law, the outrageous Quietude Bill, will soon, if passed by Parliament, limit everyone’s daily speech to 140 words, and the law will also apply to writing.

Credit: Johan Persson

With strong echoes of the Brexit vote, the policy divides the two characters – Oliver organises a “noise” demo to protest; Bernadette, the pragmatist, puts her faith in the bad law not being passed. But it is.

And so the remainder of this 85-minute absolute gem goes back and forth in time, sometimes with split-second scene and lighting changes, to chart not only their relationship, but also by revisiting situations, allows us to see what often lies behind the words they speak.

Credit: Johan Persson

Along the way Steiner gives us their own way of dealing with the law- a sort of abbreviated, speech that miraculously conveys much more meaning than it seems to – but my word you have to be super alert to catch all the nuances.

Steiner doesn’t give us a happy ending – actually he doesn’t really give us an ending at all, but we leave the packed theatre thinking we better understand the human condition, and maybe alert to right-wing threats to our freedoms.

Director Josie Rourke keeps the pace hectic and the physical interactions between the two characters absolutely enthralling. TV/theatre royalty Aidan Turner (Poldark), and Jenna Coleman (Dr Who and The Serpent), grip their roles with energy, a sense of dark fun and absolute credibility.

Credit: Johan Persson

The meaning of Robert Jones’ set – a towering, curved sets of pigeon holes full of household items – was a bit lost on me and it merely acts as a backdrop, but maybe it represents thoughts and words, who can tell? In the end it’s flown away to leave a bare, bleak stage.

Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons is at Brighton Theatre Royal until Saturday, April 1; then on a short tour. BOOK HERE

This article is 426 words, so would have been against the law.