Aidan Turner and Jenna Coleman star in the technically impressive but emotionally cold Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons at the Harold Pinter Theatre and then on tour
“Let’s just talk until it goes”
With ‘er from Victoria and ‘im from Poldark, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons is the perfect West End production for non-regular theatregoers, you’d be a fool to deny that the name recognition of Jenna Coleman and Aidan Turner alone isn’t a huge pull for any production. And kudos to producers Wessex Grove, Gavin Kalin Productions and Francesca Moody Productions for bringing a tricksy drama like Sam Steiner’s play into such a high profile venue (his You Stupid Darkness! was an enjoyable pre-pandemic treat). Truth be told, I didn’t love the show but I’m sure glad that risks like this are being taken so that the West End is entirely taken over with the endless return of sagging film musical adaptations.
Steiner’s play is set in a world where communication has been rationed to 140 words a day and its implementation through law is rippling through society. We follow – as best we can – Oliver and Bernadette, replete with meet-cute in a pet cemetery, as they meet before the rules come into effect and trace how their relationship is impacted by the restrictions imposed upon them. The timeline is highly fractured though, scenes coming into focus in a haphazard order, our understanding of what is being said (or not said) only emerging piecemeal as the pieces of the jigsaw finally align with what we have been able to glean. Even at just 85 minutes straight through, this show makes you work for it and I’m still ambivalent about whether it was worth it.
Josie Rourke’s production looks a treat in the Harold Pinter Theatre, Robert Jones’ elegant set enhanced by the pointed flashes of Aideen Malone’s lighting, and technically it holds together well. Rourke guides Coleman and Turner through endless short scenes which skip around a multitude of emotional states depending on where in the relationship we’ve landed. But there’s undoubtedly a distancing effect that comes hand in hand with this structural format, little that is as profound as it ought to be is allowed to develop between our central couple, and the constant shifts in time result in little being able to accumulate. Aside from the realisation of what the numbers mean, I don’t think any part of the show really touched me on an emotional level.
Coleman and Turner do work hard and with skill. Tracking their different personalities and thus approaches to life is fascinating – his wealthy freelance musician casually sure protest is the answer, her working class barrister much more fearful of what happens when you let people vote for important things… And the opposing ways in which they use their word count also provokes much thought, you just wish that it provoked more feeling to go along with it.