‘Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons’ was tender.
How would you communicate if you could only say 140 words in a day? ‘Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons’ imagines a world where we’re forced to say less and, therefore, pay more attention to what we say, how we say it and navigate what happens when we can’t say anything more. Mixed Productions debut show deserves a standing ovation for bringing this story to life with nuance, humour and so much heart.
‘Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons’ is a two-hander between idealistic musician Oliver (Declan Coyle) and sensible lawyer Bernadette (Grace Teng). In an Orwellian-influenced social satire, the UK government enacts a new Hush Law forbidding its citizens from speaking more than 140 words a day. We follow this young couple as they navigate love and intimacy without communication as we know it and begin prioritising how they use their voice to the wider world and to each other.
Written by Sam Steiner in 2015, the text makes observations on the effects of communication on a personal and political scale, an idea that’s grown increasingly relevant since its original publication. As director Triona Giles states, post-pandemic and in the height of global and political unrest, now feels like the necessary time to tell this story.
BackDock Arts’ intimate venue was the perfect choice for this production. The set consisted of an upstage bench and two desks at opposing sides of the space. One more cluttered and chaotic for dreamer Oliver and the other clean and organised for logical Bernadette. This minimalist style suited the production as the vast majority of the show takes place in the couple’s house. Its sparseness mirrored the theme of things being left unsaid and made the world-building through carefully considered dialogue more powerful.
The production followed a non-linear narrative structure with flashbacks and forwards across the timeline of Oliver and Bernadette’s relationship. The show begins with a date early on in their relationship after meeting at a pet cemetery, closely followed by a scene with a strange numerical precursor to the words they say to each other. While it is not evident, to begin with, that the play is told in a non-linear structure, it is a bit more satisfying to the audience once they figure it out and can begin trying to chart the couple’s relationship. With the aid of lighting design by Mei Yu See, the contrast of warmer and cooler lighting helped differentiate where scenes fell in the timeline.
Under Triona Giles’ direction, the show remained fast-paced and engaging. Giles’ strength as a director was evident as, despite the majority of scenes spent in one theatrical space and between two people, the blocking never felt repetitive or dynamically forced, even in scenes just seconds long. Among the obvious political unrest, the crux of the show was the relationship between Oliver and Bernadette, and Giles really highlighted their sweetness and humour to create two very real and likeable characters.
Coyle and Teng were champagne casting. The duo’s chemistry was charming and palpable and they both worked to create well rounded and believable characters. Clearly actors of high skill and adaptability, they were consistent even when transitioning between scenes lasting mere seconds.
Teng as Bernadette was strong, sensible and sweet. She portrayed a powerful and ambitious woman who was assertive enough to push back and voice her desires. A well-rounded character, the audience clearly understood her insecurities and empathised with her. A character like Bernadette could easily have fallen into the stereotypical trope of the highly-strung girlfriend, but Teng kept her performance subtle and believable.
Coyle as Oliver was captivating. A very nuanced performer, he brought an earnest and endearing quality to Oliver that felt representative of the everyman. Coyle always had a twinkle in his eye and, in scenes with higher tension, perfectly harnessed the relatability of the character as he wore his heart on his sleeve, leaving audiences transfixed. He also had impeccable comic timing and delivered some of the play’s biggest laughs.
‘Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons’ is a relevant piece of theatre that spotlights the importance of communication when forming new connections. The entire production team should be highly commended for bringing this beautiful show to life in such a caring and heartfelt way. The refreshing and zesty 90-minute performance seemed the perfect way to launch Mixed Productions and, if this is a sign of what’s to expect from future Mixed Productions shows, theatre lovers should make sure to grab tickets as soon as they go on sale as this company is certainly one to watch!
‘Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons’ played for just three nights at BackDock Arts. To stay up to date with Mixed Productions future shows, visit their Facebook page.