Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons (ORBIT Festival)

Sam Stenier
Walrus Theatre
HOME, Manchester
04 October 2016 to 08 October 2016

So far the ORBIT Festival has featured a sketch show and performance art. Now it finally gets around to an actual play and it turns out to have been well worth the wait because Sam Stenier’s Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is a cracker

The courtship between solicitor Bernadette (Beth Holmes) and political activist/musician Oliver (Euan Kitson) is shown in charming amusing excerpts as their relationship matures. In between these scenes, however, the couple engage in bizarre rituals – tapping out words in Morse code or using strange amalgams of several words merged together. It turns out that we are jumping between different time zones and that, at some point in the couple’s relationship, Parliament passes The Hush Act that limits the number of words an individual can speak in a day to 140. No reason is given for the new law but my theory is that it is intended to limit the length of speeches at the MTA awards ceremony. As Bernadette and Oliver try and devise ways to get around the new law they find their relationship coming under unexpected strain.

Sam Stenier’s script is far more than just a clever concept. There is a real passion for communication and love of language here along with a fascination for the ways in which words can be both used and abused. When Oliver says ‘I Love you’ to Bernadette the impact upon her is clear but is immediately followed by a rapid sequence in which the same phrase is rattled off so often and at such a rapid speed that it loses all meaning. After the number of words that can be used is restricted phrases become weapons that can be saved or squandered by people in a tense relationship. In the run up to the passing of The Hush Act the couple desperately try to articulate and resolve all of the irritations that have arisen during their time together ranging from ‘ I hate your brother’ to a sudden revelation of disappointment in a partner’s sexual technique.

Director Ed Madden subtly explores the strains in the relationship. All communication between Bernadette and Oliver is verbal. The stage is bare and the couple constantly circle each other but never seem to touch. Even during sex they face away from each other. A strong sense of guilt runs through the play - Bernadette feels Oliver resents her earning more than him and he has a nasty secret of his own. Like penitents they wear bland clothing and walk the stage barefoot.

The script places extraordinary demands upon the cast and Beth Holmes and Euan Kitson rise to the challenge with style. The fragmented scenes in the play could easily become confusing if not for their relaxed and assured delivery of the complex dialogue. The duo has a natural easy chemistry that makes Bernadette and Oliver’s relationship feel well worn, comfortable and absolutely convincing.

Walrus is a new theatre company making their achievement with this play all the more impressive. The passing of The Hush Act prompts the authorities to remind the populace to ‘choose carefully’. Well, ‘choose carefully’ – go and see Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons.

Reviewer: David Cunningham