revew: Walrus – Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons
Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons/
by Sam Steiner/
dir Ed Madden/
There are two things at stake in Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons: freedom of language and a relationship. Obviously that’s oversimplifying it a bit – there are more, smaller things – but these feel like the two driving forces. Bernadette and Oliver are a couple, there is a law introduced (presumably in the UK?) limiting the words anyone is allowed to speak to 140 per day. Oliver and Bernadette talk about the law, talk to each other, talk about a dead cat and argue a little bit about class and politics.
I can’t really pinpoint a major event in the plot. There are lots of events, but none of them feel like they affect a great deal, for which I blame the text, which is non-linear and flicks between moments pre- and post- the ‘hush’ law coming into effect. Maybe there is something in here about the nullifying effect of the law on meaning and relationships – the form flattens out any dynamics in audience affect by virtue of democratising every event in these characters’ lives – nothing is given any more weight than anything else. Perhaps this would work if it was a sci-fi novella but I was itching the whole second thirty minutes of this show for something to happen. And not necessarily in the story but onstage.
After half an hour, I felt Lemons had used all of its tricks. I knew it was going to end eventually and I recognised that that ending would be given an equal lack of weight as the rest of the play. Writing now, two days later, I can’t remember what the ending was (oh no, I remember now, it was them meeting, I think) but it was delivered, and the two performers unceremoniously walked off the stage. The form wasn’t uninteresting, at least initially, but like the script it didn’t evolve and by the end felt arbitrary. Again, maybe this is the point, and if someone’s going to make a show where they want me to feel numb then I’d rather they made it an hour long than three. I guess maybe I want more kicking – or more of a sense of why you want me to feel numb.
There were senses of that, though. I see the links to contemporary politics. The attitude that everyone on the left is supposed to have of totally believing they were going to win every vote going and being blown away when they continue to lose like they have been doing. Political disenfranchisement. The horror of watching everything unfold that you feared would happen, protested against, then had no effect on. Again, there’s a close relationship with impotence in Lemons – it’s particularly telling that Bernadette and Oliver’s sex is shit post- hush law. Oliver in particular expends all the effort he can muster to fight the law, which isn’t enough; he may as well have adopted Bernadette’s casual acceptance of the political current for all the good it did.
Maybe my problem is I can’t find myself caring about the outcome of Bernadette and Oliver’s relationship – I assumed they’d stay together but didn’t really mind if they didn’t and then they did so the play finished in the same place it started. The concept is such a bizarrely charming concept for a piece of writing, but the decision to centre everything on such an ordinary pair of people drains a lot of what punch there could be. There are stabs at making the show mean something about class and political engagement but they leave me wondering why that wasn’t what the show was about instead.