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  • Xi Ye

Review - Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

Harold Pinter Theatre


Sam Steiner


Josie Rourke


Gavin Kalin Productions

Francesca Moody Productions


Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is a tender and funny rom-com about what we say, how we say it, and what happens when we can’t say anything anymore.


In the build-up and then the subsequent passing of an authoritarian law to restrict the number of words that can be used each day to 140 (spoken and written), a couple navigate through ways to best communicate with each other, express their feelings and maintain their relationship in light of the word limit. While the play presents itself as a rom-com, it extends far beyond this, providing a platform to also explore political implications and class privileges.

The play follows Oliver (Aidan Turner) and Bernadette (Jenna Coleman), a musician from a castle owning upper-class background and a lawyer from a working-class family, respectively. It is evident that Oliver and Bernadette have contrasting views and on occasions, struggle to understand each other’s standpoint when they have all the words in the world to express themselves. The couple learned to announce their remaining words for the day to each other when they get home, a sign of transparency and the romantic gesture to reserve their quota for each other. As time passes, tension mounts and at one point, Bernadette saved fewer and fewer words for Oliver. Both Turner and Coleman flawlessly expressed their feelings using only hand gestures and limited dialogue, showcasing their desire to communicate and at times, when there is nothing more to say, using the limitation as a way to shut down a conversation. However, the audience is constantly thrown back and forth between the past and present, chemistry and disconnection from scene to scene, which can come across as disjointed and confusing at times.

Lemons x 5 is not only about a love story. It is also about class privileges and potentially, suppression. Following the passing of the quiet law, exceptions are made to allow people to talk freely only in certain places, such as in the court room and in parliament. These exceptions are maddening for Oliver. As a musician, he is not privy to such privileges and despite multiple campaigns to lift the limit for demonstrations, he is unsuccessful. Oliver was born into privileges and likely used to having his voice heard, but is now unable to express his views. He argues that he is fighting for the right of the working class, but he failed to acknowledge the opportunities that came with his background. It becomes unclear whether he is fighting for the working-class as he claimed or simply fighting for his own rights. Despite the immense potential to develop the political and class issues, these are side lined and serve as mere vehicles to spark tension and argument between the couple. The story would benefit from explanation as to how the law came about in order to help the audience understand the premise of the story and why each character reacts the way they do.

The stage is bare, no flashy props or lighting, placing all of the focus on Oliver and Bernadette. There is a sense of emptiness, shown by the enormity of space around the couple and yet at the same time, not enough materials to fill the void in their relationship. Given the situation presented and the amount of energy spent on just trying to phrase your thoughts in the most succinct way, it is true that nothing else matters. The only use of lighting is between the transition between the past and the present, before and after the introduction of the law.

With a hypothetical scenario as promising and juicy as this, the story has so much potential to explore the deeper meanings of not only relationship, but also class privileges and political agendas. Instead, a decision was made to side line these issues to formulate a half-squeezed plot covering all of these topics, pulled in all sorts of directions that ultimately resulted in an underdelivered concept.

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